A fine and versatile defender, Joleon Lescott was a consistent and formidable performer who proved one of David Moyes most astute buys. Three of Everton’s best six defensive seasons of all time coincided with Lescott’s three-year spell with the club, but memories of him are ultimately sullied by the manner of his departure.
A boyhood Aston Villa fan, whose older brother Aaron played for Bristol Rovers, Lescott made his league debut as a 17 year-old for Wolves at the start of the 2000/01 season. He quickly established a reputation as Wolves’ most outstanding player and was a crucial part of the team that won promotion to the Premier League in 2003. He missed the duration of Wolves top flight campaign after sustaining a serious knee injury, but made a return the following year.
Lescott continued to impress for the Midlands club, and Wolves attracted covetous glances from the top flight. It was Everton who took the plunge, paying £5 million for him in the summer of 2006. David Moyes later revealed that he had had Lescott scouted on more than 20 occasions and never had anything but positive reports back.
Immediately identifiable because of the prominent scar on his forehead – the result of a childhood traffic accident – Lescott was a prominent member of the Everton backline. Tall, quick and rangy, he first entered the team in the left back berth, where his grounding as a schoolboy winger showed. He was a potent attacker in a team lacking natural width, overlapping or cutting inside, and added real cut and thrust to the Everton left.
But it was at centre back where his long term ambitions lay and he emerged as an excellent defensive partner to Joseph Yobo, his presence marginalising Alan Stubbs and David Weir and bringing an end to their long Everton careers. Theirs was one of the quickest central defensive partnerships in the league and despite occasional lapses in concentration it was soon one of the most formidable. Later Phil Jagielka would usurp Yobo, and the all-English partnership looked even better.
Lescott was unlucky to miss out to Mikel Arteta for the Everton Player of the Year Award in 2007 as the team qualified for the UEFA Cup. A year later he would wrest the award from the Spaniard in a campaign in which he grabbed as many headlines for the goals he scored as the ones he kept out. With Tim Cahill and Andrew Johnson he was second top scorer with ten, and his strike rate was reminiscent of Derek Mountfield’s contribution to the great 1980s teams.
By now he was an England international, making his debut against Estonia in October 2007. It was the natural progression for a player who had represented his country at every level – Under-18, under-20, Under-21 and B international.
Although one of Everton’s most consistent performers there were, however, glimmers of frailty. He scored a last minute own goal in the 2008 League Cup semi final that brought a 2-1 defeat in a game that Everton should have won. Asked to play left back at the start of the 2008/09 season, he was palpably unhappy in the role and was less than convincing in a position in which he had previously excelled.
Lescott was nevertheless an important part of the Everton team that reached the 2009 FA Cup Final. His goal in the fourth round tie with Liverpool gave a depleted Everton team the initiative in a game they were predicted to lose.
Yet rumours linking him with a transfer to Manchester City would never quite go away. In September 2008 Manchester’s perennial underachievers had been transformed from national laughing stock to the richest team in the world following a takeover by an Abu Dhabi investment group. Like a gauche lottery jackpot winner they flouted their new found wealth, paying scant heed to the common courtesies and protocols of British football.
Speculation intensified following Everton’s 2009 FA Cup Final defeat to Chelsea, but a firm bid did not come until the eve of the 2009/10 season. The intention of City was seemingly to unsettle one of its main rivals ahead of the new season – a rival it should mentioned who had risen to the top of English football through merit, not the petro-billions of a foreign tycoon.
Bids of £15 million and £18 million were rejected by Everton and Moyes was adamant that Lescott was going nowhere. On the first day of the 2009/10 season he included him in the team to face Arsenal at Goodison, despite Lescott allegedly telling him he didn’t want to play.
The defender received a mixed reception from the Goodison crowd, although cheers were louder than the boos that greeted his name. Yet Lescott did not acknowledge the supporters and his body language suggested he would sooner be elsewhere. Although by no means wholly culpable for what happened, his restlessness seemed to undermine the team as Everton were hammered 6-1 – their heaviest home defeat in 50 years.
In the wake of this humiliation, Moyes omitted Lescott from Everton’s midweek Europa League tie, publicly berating his poor attitude. Days later he finally joined City for £24 million – the third highest fee ever paid for a defender – on a reported basic weekly salary of £94,000.