Understudy Lescott set for more central role

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The Independent Online

The life of a perpetual understudy, as the premature retirement of several goalkeepers has underlined, is a frustrating one, but there is always hope. Joleon Lescott knows that as well as anyone in the England squad. Seven starts in three and a half years, and 32 squad appearances indicate the 28-year-old has had a peripheral international role, but he has learnt at club level the benefits of patience. He spent the first half of the season sat on the bench, with Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré preferred by manager Roberto Mancini as Manchester City's first-choice central defensive pairing. Then Touré tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended. Lescott was back in the team and he stayed there ending the season with an FA Cup winners' medal.

At international level Lescott is behind John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. While he is unlikely to be promoted in similar circumstances to those that pertained at club level, his rivals are prone to suffering injury. Indeed, Lescott played three successive internationals prior to Christmas, including the 3-1 European Championship qualifying victory in Basle against Saturday's opponents, Switzerland. He also came off the bench in England's last match, against Ghana at Wembley in March, but will not remember his 12th cap with any great joy, having been bamboozled by Asamoah Gyan before the Sunderland striker's last-minute equaliser.

Buoyed, however, by City's strong finish, he feels in form and confident he will impress if involved at the weekend. "I started the season quite slowly," admitted Lescott yesterday, "not playing as much as I would have liked, but the team was doing well. I had to be patient and when I got my chance, I had to take it. I was confident that given a chance I would play."

Such are City's ambitions Lescott knows that he could find himself on the bench again next season, even though Touré is banned until September, because yet another centre-half has been bought (his defensive partner, Kompany, the club's player of the season, will not be the one making way).

"Obviously, to progress the club will need to buy players and if that means them buying a centre-half so be it," he said. "I will have to fight for my position. I do think I've become a better player this year. You have to progress each season."

Being involved with a club that is heading into the Champions League will, he believes, boost his international chances – he feels that experience was one reason why Michael Dawson edged ahead of him in the pecking order last season.

He does have one advantage over the Tottenham defender, a similar coaching culture with club and country in the Italians Mancini and Fabio Capello. "The way they do certain tactics is quite similar, which can help me," said Lescott. "With defending we have to stay tight to strikers in the box whereas, growing up in the Premier League and the Championship, it is more zonal marking." It's a small matter, but it could be a decisive one both in a tight match, and in team selection.

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