Montenegro v England: Mystery of Manchester City exclusion continues as Joleon Lescott fights for international future

Centre-half cannot be drawn on Mancini fall-out but will get big chance tomorrow

Bologna

When Joleon Lescott is asked to weigh up his chances of being in the England squad, should they qualify for the World Cup finals next summer, he pauses for a moment and then hedges his bets. “Sitting here now, if you’d asked me that last year then I’d have said: ‘Yeah, pretty good’. But you don’t know. If I can play more regularly at club level then I think I’ll be there.”

Answering questions in a beach front cafe in the town of Riccione, where England have been based before and after Friday’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino, is not really where Lescott expected to be this weekend. He planned to be in Paris with his wife Debbie, taking advantage of an international week when, he thought, his country did not need him.

As it stands, Lescott will be in the side tomorrow night when England face Montenegro in Podgorica in their crucial World Cup qualifier. Eleven days ago he was not even in Roy Hodgson’s 26-man squad for the two qualifiers having, in the words of the manager, played “too little football” for Manchester City. Come the end of Friday’s game in Serravalle he was wearing the captain’s armband for the second time in his international career.

But then Lescott, 30, knows only too well how quickly things can change. Last summer at Euro 2012 he and John Terry started every game together at the heart of Hodgson’s defence. Lescott had just won his first Premier League winners’ medal with City, starting 40 games in all competitions. If he was fit, he played. Now he is pretty much out in the cold.

It has not yet been satisfactorily  explained why Roberto Mancini has taken against Lescott to such an  extent. The teenage Serb Matija Nastasic has been impressive, but even in Vincent Kompany’s absences the City manager has largely turned to Kolo Touré and Javi Garcia rather than Lescott. Sadly, the new agreement between the Football Association and the clubs that players do not discuss club matters on international duty meant Lescott was unable to offer his view on the situation.

“Towards the end of the season, I’ll address that,” he said. “But for now, I’m fully focused on England and what England need to do.”

He will almost certainly partner Chris Smalling tomorrow night, having played alongside the United man on Friday. Smalling is the only central defender still available to Hodgson from the four he picked in his original squad following the withdrawals of Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Cahill.

Smalling played under Hodgson at Fulham and is something of a favourite of the England manager but has actually made two fewer starts for United, 15, than Lescott has for City this season. Like Lescott, he too appears to be fourth choice centre-back at his club. But it was Lescott who was initially left out and then called up when Dawson withdrew.

“Of course it is a concern that I haven’t been playing as much I would like, but I have confidence in my own ability,” Lescott said. “Touch wood I haven’t been injured – because I haven’t been playing – so I feel sharp enough to adapt to anything. I am not saying that I am a guaranteed start but I feel sharp and feel fit.

“I don’t think everyone in the squad has played every game since the last squad. If you think about it like that no one can be at their ultimate peak but I feel confident in my ability. Obviously I was not playing as regularly as the other players. Michael and Rio were playing regularly and playing well so I fully understand the reasons for not being in there.

“I don’t think the manager owes me anything special to anyone else ... he said Chris had played in the last game against Brazil and did well. I understood his decision and respected them. Chris has played more for England. That’s the way I look at it. But I’m here now and I’m going to take the opportunity with both hands.”

Lescott says that he still loves getting up for training in the morning and is at the training ground even on days off because he likes to keep ticking over. His fracture with Mancini seemed to come after the manager criticised his defender following the Champions League defeat to Ajax in Amsterdam on 24 October. After that Lescott did not start another game until the visit of his former club Everton at the start of December.

His contract is up in the summer of next year and already there have been suggestions that a player signed for £24m could be allowed to go for a fraction of that fee this summer. If his City career is coming to an end, at least as long as Mancini stays at the club, then there is still plenty at stake for England. He is still young for a central defender.

“The Euros were great and if I never played for England again that will have gone down as the ultimate goal to have played in,” he said. “But to play in the World Cup is everyone’s dream. No disrespect to the Euros but you don’t grow up dreaming of the Euros, you dream of the World Cup. That’s the same for everyone and I’m no different.”

Of course, there are many players on the borders of Hodgson’s squad who are thinking the same and in central defence Hodgson has a lot of players to choose from. If Lescott performs tomorrow night then one expects, especially given Ferdinand’s withdrawal, that Hodgson will feel a certain loyalty towards him. Certainly more than he has enjoyed with Mancini at City.

England hopeful: Lescott by numbers

25 England caps won by Lescott. He made his debut from the bench against Estonia in October 2007

1 Defeat for England in Lescott’s last 13 appearances – the Euro 2012 quarter-final loss to Italy

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks