Former Manchester City defender spoke exclusively with Compare.bet during the UK’s government-imposed lockdown. With no scheduled return date for Premier League football and over a month since the last fixture, the former England international floated his ideas surrounding a televised return across the country’s football leagues. Lescott also looked further ahead, speaking about England’s EURO 2021 squad and the future of Premier League stars such as Harry Kane, Jack Grealish as well as Wolves duo Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore. Speaking on his former club Manchester City, Lescott identified summer transfer targets for Pep Guardiola’s squad and discussed the managerial prospects of club legend David Silva.
DB: Hey Joleon, how are you getting on? It’s obviously a tough time with what everyone is going through and all of us being stuck indoors. How have you been keeping yourself busy at home?
JL: Luckily we’ve got a decent garden, and the weather’s been great so we’ve been able to keep the kids occupied outside. The school has kept us busy, as even though they’re not going to school a lot of work has been coming in, so we’ve been rotating our parenting around that.
DB: Are the weekends particularly tough with no Premier League football?
JL: Pretty much all of my work revolves around football, so the fact that it’s not on is weird. I’ve found myself not watching the dedicated sports channels because I don’t want to miss it more than I already do, if that makes sense, so I stay away from any sports news and chat because it’s hard to deal with, well, harder than I thought.
DB: With no announcement made surrounding the conclusion of the 2019/20 Premier League season, we’re seeing players keep fit at home with exercise bikes, treadmills as well as interval and weight training. We’ve seen the likes of Tammy Abraham and Alexandre Lacazette share videos of their home fitness routines on social media. What are you doing to keep fit whilst homebound, and is there anything that can substitute in for the sessions at the training ground?
JL: There won’t be any substitute, because of the competitive edge, the adrenaline rush that you get from competing against teammates and friends, putting yourself in that competitive mindset, you can attempt to replicate it but it won’t be the same. I keep busy doing all of the above and what you’ve mentioned. I’m lucky enough to have the facilities at home to keep fit, and recently purchased a road bike as well, so with many of the challenges that the current players are doing, I’ve been trying to do them myself, so I’m seeing how far I am from current players, and doing these challenges whether it be with weights or on the bike.
DB: What we’re going through right now is pretty much an enforced off-season. It’s been over a month since the last Premier League match. While clubs are working hard to ensure players stay fit whilst homebound, how important is it to allow a mini pre-season period where players are allowed to regain sharpness and how long do you think teams need before they can get back to competitive football?
JL: In terms of fitness, four weeks. It’s been four weeks since the last game, and they only have roughly 4-6 weeks off. Considering there haven’t been any internationals, the season hasn’t been as long and there have been fewer games for teams and players, so in terms of when they go into training, four weeks should get them back to a good level. The only worrying thing with the four weeks and potential pre-season, is how are they going to get match fitness? During normal pre-season you go on tour, you have games to get you up to fitness and stuff like that. Teams aren’t travelling anywhere and logistically you’d imagine it’s going to be difficult to arrange friendlies like that. They’ll be concerned with ensuring the players can get to match level, when normally at the start of the season you’re pretty much there.
DB: After Friday’s Premier League meeting, it’s clear clubs are committed to playing the remainder of the season. The EFL chair Rick Parry spoke of a return behind closed doors. Do you think this is something the Premier League should adopt?
JL: I think they’ll have to, with safety being of paramount importance. It’s been suggested that for the Premier League, the majority, if not all of the games will be televised, so there’ll be income streams for teams. But for the lower league teams that don’t have that revenue and rely on gates and sales at the ground, whether it be pints or pies, it’s going to be difficult. It’d be good to see if the television companies can find a way to ensure the lower league clubs can generate more revenue. Could they perhaps have everyone’s games on telly, but on different days? So the Premier League plays on a Friday, Championship on a Saturday, League 1 on Sunday, then perhaps it could help generate the revenue that these teams are missing out on by so much at the moment. I think all fans would appreciate any football on now. If there was non-league football on telly the viewing figures would be up there, so it could be an opportunity to get more football fans watching the Football League in a way they may not usually.
DB: Could any teams benefit from being behind closed doors? Do you think it could alter the eventual outcome of the Premier League table if the season is finished behind closed doors?
JL: I think it could alter the outcome of the teams fighting relegation. I know there’s a lot of teams but if you’re reliant on your home form, and they’ll have no one there to give them that support for example if you’re Aston Villa, who have taken 17 points at home and eight away – they do considerably better at home where their attendance, relatively to other teams in their situation is vast, so all of a sudden your real advantage of having your team and your fans helping you is not there, so I feel it’s going to have an impact at the bottom.
DB: With any potential return now bound to spill over into the usual off-season period, UEFA has postponed the EUROs to 2021. With injury concerns surrounding Kane and Rashford do you see this as a potential positive for England’s national team?
JL: I think so yes. It was touch and go if they were going to be match fit as they were going through injuries, so the fact that its next year is great for them, but who’s to say 12 months down the line there won’t be other injuries to players or themselves again. Touch-wood that doesn’t happen. Kane and Rashford will be using this period to get back to full fitness and they’ll no doubt be raring to go, but 12 months further on who’s to say what could happen. Nobody saw this current situation happening, and there’s a fear of a recurrence when we come out of lockdown and the virus spiking again, so we have to hope for the best and that our best players stay fit and healthy.
DB: With another season to decide who makes the 23-man squad, are there any newer faces that you think have a better chance of making the cut with another year to go?
JL: Oh definitely. Every player will have a chance of making it as they’ll potentially have a whole season more to impress. Saying that, there will be players that might not replicate the form that they’ve had now that possibly won’t make it. The one that stands out to me is Danny Ings. The season he’s had and the goals he’s scored, for me, he had to go to the Euros. To say to him he’s got to do that again for a team that doesn’t compete at the top of the league, it’s difficult for players like that, I feel for them. The exciting talents like Phil Foden and Mason Mount, we expect them to be there or thereabouts so it’s not going to surprise us if they go to the Euros next year. Their time is coming. People who have had setbacks but performed this season in order to be in with a chance for this summer, I feel for them.
DB: We’ve seen much of the discussion on the return of football centred around the Premier League. Your former club Man City seem to be locked in for second place, but should the Champions League return and the games be able to be played, are they the rightful favourites?
JL: I think so. If they can get through Madrid, which they’ve given themselves a great opportunity of doing after the first leg. I don’t think it’s going to help Madrid if they continuously talk about what players they want to get rid of in order to buy a new player or generate money before the season has finished. If their goal is to win the league and Champions League, and they’re looking to get rid of five players, where are those individuals minds going to be? So that would help City going into the second leg of the tie. I think the fact that Liverpool are not in it is huge for everyone now. You could honestly say if they had gone on to win it again it wouldn’t have been a surprise. The fact that Atletico beat them was a surprise, at least at Anfield anyway, so I think every team now would gain confidence from them being out, but also will want to avoid Atletico Madrid.
DB: The gap between City and Liverpool – the runaway leaders this season has really highlighted City’s areas of weakness, with depth at centre-back being a concern. Are there any names that you think City should target when the transfer market re-opens?
JL: I do understand people pointing to that, but in my opinion, Laporte has had a similar impact to Van Dijk at Liverpool, but Liverpool have not had to play without him – unlike City, I think if Van Dijk had been injured that could show frailties in their defence – those two for me are two of the best in the Premier League. In terms of possible names who could come in, there’s Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli who is well regarded and possibly another option would be Dayot Upamecano from Leipzig who supposedly a number of top teams are looking at.
DB: One man who often attracts rumours about his future is your former Villa teammate and club captain Jack Grealish. Seeing him at such an early stage in his career, did you feel that he’d go on to become such a pivotal figure at the club?
JL: Oh without a doubt. I definitely knew he was going to be a star for Aston Villa, and the potential he had, not even the potential but the ability he had at that age was visible. I did question whether he was going to allow distractions to affect the route he takes to get to where he should be, and I think he’s proved with his football and level of professionalism that he can compete with anyone in the league. I think he’s created the most chances of anyone aside from Kevin De Bruyne, which is ridiculous for a team that is in the bottom three. If Jack does leave, which many seem to believe that he will at some point, whether it’s this season I don’t know, but in order to be a top player he needs to compete at the top level, and for me that’s in the Champion’s League.
DB: With some reports linking him with the likes of Manchester United, do you think he could play for one of the traditional ‘big six’?
JL: In my opinion, he could. I know he can perform at those clubs against those kinds of players, and I think everyone can see the ability he has, but once you actually work with him you’ll see how good he is, how strong he is and how big he is. When I was there he was young, but I’ve seen him recently and he’s a man now, he’s developed his body and put the work in off the field to ensure that he’s robust. He doesn’t miss games for silly injuries, but obviously there are impact injuries coming from getting fouled so much and he puts his body through a lot but, he’s built up robustness which is a credit to him.
DB: Someone he could join if any move was to materialise is Paul Pogba. Fans have seen some back and forth recently between him and Graeme Souness – both well-respected players. What do you make of them both? Is it possible to compare players from different eras?
JL: I’ve always thought it’s difficult to compare players from different eras. Obviously with them playing the same position, yes I get it, but it’s hard to say – it’s unfair on both of them. I get why there’s frustration from Graeme Souness because, like us all, he’s seen the ability. It’s not potential with Pogba, it’s ability. He’s probably frustrated that he’s not able to do that every week. It’s hard for someone like that with Pogba’s ability, when the team that Manchester United are now, aren’t quite what they were previously. I think if he plays with better players, he shines and he wouldn’t have to shine every week, but in the moments that he does shine, the team would do better. I think that’s hindering him as well, the fact that he has to be the go-to every week – that’s not easy for any player. He’s obviously also faced injuries, so it takes time to recover and get back to the normal level of production.
DB: There’s definitely been a lot of pressure on his shoulders in recent years.
JL: Oh definitely and it comes with the stature, price that he came for, the awards and medals he’s picked up. But I’m sure he’s not fazed by any of that. I just think it is unfair that he’s criticised as much as he is and made a scapegoat with the lack of overall success at the club. In terms of when we look back at his career, I don’t think anyone will be doubting what a top player he was.
DB: Many Premier League retro matches have been on air to give fans a chance to look back at some of the league’s most iconic fixtures. Do you think the quality of football has changed in today’s game, compared to your memories of watching the Premier League’s early years in the early and mid-1990s?
JL: I think the most noticeable difference is the speed and athleticism of the players. I think if you look at recruitment now and profiling of players, most players have a similar stature. In the earlier years, you could see the size of a full-back, a winger, a midfielder and identify what position they play without knowing who they were. I don’t think you’d have that now. All players are athletes with similar stature. In regards to my job at City, with the players the club has out on loan and being privy to conversations at the club amongst recruitment officers, I know that a massive part of recruitment is the profiling of players.
There was a lot of technical ability in previous years, so I don’t think that has changed as much as people might say, but I think the speed and athleticism is definitely a big factor.
DB: One player that has the profile and skillset to thrive in today’s game, as well as the style of football played in the past, is someone you’ve faced – Harry Kane. Of the current crop of players, does he stand out as a name who seems destined for the recently announced Premier League Hall of Fame?
JL: I think if he continues to do what he’s done, he’ll be a Hall of Famer without a doubt. But he’s going to have to continue to score at the rate he’s scored at. Given the opportunity, I think he will. He doesn’t miss many chances, so as long as they keep coming, he’ll continue to score goals. Not only is he a very good goalscorer, but he’s also a very intelligent player. I don’t think there’d be many teams that he couldn’t adapt to the style of and play for.
DB: With 136 goals already, do you fancy his chances of breaking Alan Shearer’s record of 260?
JL: He’s 26 now, so let’s say he’s going to have another eight years. If he can stay free of injury and get 20 goals a season in those years, he deserves to be recognised as the greatest goalscorer England has ever produced.
If he avoids injuries and plays at the highest level, he’s only going to get better with experience. It’s just whether his peak lasts long enough for him to continue what he’s doing. There’s no reason to say he couldn’t do it, but it’s going to be very difficult.
DB: Some pundits feel Spurs may have hit their ceiling in recent years, with an ageing team that was outside of the top six when the league was suspended. With rumours about his future never far away, including some recent rumours of interest from Man City, what do you think would be the best decision for Harry Kane’s career?
JL: He’s found a great bond with his club, Spurs, but I don’t think anyone would begrudge him if he chose to leave. If he was to go to a team that’s a direct rival for Spurs, that were also competing to break into the top four, I think that’s when you’d question whether it’s the right decision. But a team that is title contenders every year, regardless of what league that may be in – the likes of City, Liverpool and Real Madrid, that would only be a positive move for Harry Kane. With that step up comes another level of pressure – it’s not going to be a cheap fee if he does leave. With that, on top of the fierce rivalries you see at the very top only adds to the pressure. He’ll make the right decision, but it could be difficult to emulate what he does at Spurs.
DB: With your former teammate David Silva in his last season at City, how would you describe him as a player and his contribution to the club?
JL: His contributions to the Premier League and Man City have been remarkable. There are a lot of players that have been compared to him, both within City’s team and in the rest of the league, but, for me, he’s right up there in consideration for the greatest City signing.
You have to remember that City didn’t always play 4-3-3, so when he joined, he was playing on the left-wing – he wasn’t able to come into the centre at first. With that comes different responsibilities. He wasn’t a traditional winger in terms of work rate but he was able to produce for the team from the left and he did it without moaning, so his dedication to his craft was clear to see. To play at such a top-level for 10 years is not easy at all.
DB: Can you see him becoming a manager in the future?
JL: I would have initially said that I can’t see David becoming a manager, but having seen what Mikel Arteta is doing, it wouldn’t surprise me now. I didn’t see Mikel becoming a manager either, but he had the knowledge and the understanding of the game. David definitely has that too. With that being said, yes it could be a possibility.
DB: Your first club Wolves have had another strong season so far, after being the surprise package of the previous campaign. Who would you say has been their standout performers this season?
JL: Wolves have top performers, but collectively they’re a better team than they are as individuals. Jiminez, Traore and Neves get the majority of the credit, but the fact that Conor Coady has barely missed a game in three seasons is remarkable. It’ll be hard to find another outfield player who’s done that over the last three years, especially with the number of games in that period, one of those seasons being in the Championship, this season also playing in the Europa League. He would have to be up there in terms of standout players. It’s clear to see how important he is to the team if Nuno feels like he can’t chop and change at his position.
DB: Do you think the club will be able to hang on to the likes of Jiminez and Traore, with both rumoured to have been courted by top-six clubs?
JL: I think Traore will be harder to keep due to his age and the fee they could generate. They obviously paid a lot of money for him, but in today’s market, is that original fee a lot of money for someone of his age and capability? It’s different with Jiminez. Could I see him playing at the top? Definitely. But I think where Jiminez is a bit older and cost Wolves a bit more, it’s less likely.
It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s interest in both, but I don’t think both of them will leave – Wolves wouldn’t be silly enough to let them both go.
DB: Who else do you think it’s important for Wolves to tie down to avoid losing them to a bigger club?
JL: I think the most important person to tie down is the manager. He’s going into his last year, so it would be great for the club to tie him down. If he leaves, it’s a massive blow to the structure and philosophy that he’s put in place and that’d be harder to replace than any player.
DB: Is there anyone at Wolves you feel has the potential to be a starter at a so-called ‘bigger’ Premier League Club?
JL: I think Neves has the capability. Midfielders don’t peak in terms of physicality till around 26, 27, so he’s still a few years off that. With the number of games and level he’s played at, at his age, it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of teams come in for him in the future. What’s good is that they’ve all proven they can handle this level of football comfortably. I was more nervous for Wolves this season, as opposed to last season. They took a lot of teams by surprise last year and they took a lot of points off the big six. That doesn’t happen every year and those top teams learn the fastest. I thought if Wolves struggled to beat the so-called lesser teams it’d hinder them, but it hasn’t.
The European campaign was also spoken of as a hindrance, and that would probably have come into play now. Early on you might not see the effects, but once you start to rack up 50 games in a season while other teams have played 30 to 40, you start to see the effects of fatigue. Not just physically, but mentally. I think that’s one of the biggest things players can take away from this break. Physically your body recovers, but you can take some time to switch off.
DB: If Wolves can secure consecutive Europa League seasons, it’s only natural to look ahead and see the Champions League as the next step up. Do you see this Wolves side being able to eventually push on and compete for a top-four spot or do you think it’s inevitable that players will move on to bigger clubs?
JL: I think Wolves’ goal, since their promotion, was to achieve that level of progression. This is only their second season, but they seem like an established Premier League team. Is it surprising anyone, that they’re competing with the top six and playing the way they are? Not really. That’s the biggest compliment you can give. When they compete and beat those top teams, no one is surprised. As a club, they can look to build on that stability and kick on. There’s obviously a level of player you need to buy to consistently get into the Champions League, and that’s not gonna be easy to attract. Top players will want to compete for the League and Champions League of course, so it’s always going to get progressively harder but I’m sure Wolves will be prepared for that.
I think players will move on, but I also think the club know what they’re doing in terms of recruitment to attract the right personnel. I don’t think they’ll ever be left short, or let a player go and be caught off guard with a hole in their squad. I think they’re doing it the right way and have a good understanding of what direction they’re heading in, in terms of recruitment and profiling of players.
DB: Last month you said on a Wolves podcast that you used to love being one-on-one against a striker. Who gave you your first bad day at the office when playing in the Premier League and who is the toughest Premier League striker you’ve faced?
JL: Robin Van Persie, his movement and ability were good, really good. If he got you into a tight situation, he knew exactly what he was doing, so it was always difficult to read what he was going to do.
One of the most difficult days I had was at Wolves, in the Championship. That was against Louis Saha. He showed me up and made me realise there was another level that I needed to reach in order to become a top player.
The Premier League is filled with top talent and certainly when I was playing everyone had a top striker as teams thought that’s what would keep you in the league. Teams were always looking for a guy that could get them 20 goals, and most teams had a guy that could do that, so there was never an easy game for me.
DB: Away from football, we see you enjoy being behind the decks, having done a few DJ gigs for City and on a League of their Own. With so much time at home, I’m sure you’re the living room DJ – what’s in your rotation at the moment?
JL: There’s a platform that DJs use called DJ City that uploads the latest tracks daily. There could be 100 tracks a day so it just lets me stay up to date. I don’t know all the music that my kids listen to now, I’m embarrassed to say that, I never thought the day would come where my kids would know more current stuff than me. When I go on that site I’m able to pick up on that, so I make sure I do that every few weeks so that if I wanted to play somewhere, I would have the current stuff and latest selection!