Considering the massive support Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea have enjoyed in India in the last two decades, Manchester City are late entrants from the Premier League. However, City’s rise has been phenomenal in the last decade. Their first league title came only in 2011-12, and the third – first under Pep Guardiola last term — has given City the right to paint Indian towns sky blue; this when the red corner of Manchester looks rather pale.
Former England defender Joleon Lescott featured prominently in the first two City title wins, and is in India as the club’s ambassador in their victory parade dubbed the ‘Centurions trophy tour’. It refers to City becoming the first Premier League club to breach the 100-point mark last season. They won the League Cup as well.
Sunday left Lescott with mixed feelings. While ‘the intensity and passion of the City fans’ in the public screening of the draw in Liverpool was pleasant, Riyad Mahrez fluffing the 86th minute penalty wasn’t. “I saw genuine excitement for City and passion; devastated when we missed the penalty. The recent success has given us the opportunity, otherwise we wouldn’t have had the fans we have had.”
The focus on City has gone up manifold under Guardiola. Champions League success as well as retaining the league title will be the focus this term after European success eluded the Spaniard’s side in 2017-18. “Very expansive and very exciting, last season was that,” Lescott explains. “I don’t think it took anyone by surprise inside the City group.”
Another 100-point show may be tough this season. The pressing and harassing when not in possession are no longer Guardiola’s trademark alone. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and the Blues’ Maurizio Sarri, even Arsenal under Unai Emery, are playing that aggressive game.
Lescott believes Guardiola’s influence will last. “Even if we don’t reach 100 and get only 99 points, the fans will still be happy because the style is very attractive… Obviously trophies are important, but also the style of play that people talk about outside the City group.”
Lescott’s pride of having been part of the breakthrough year is clear. “It was more important to get the trophies and we did that and implemented the tactics the manager and coaches had in mind at that time… we created history of the club.
Lescott uses “people skills” to hail Guardiola’s impact within the squad, which struggling United under Jose Mourinho can do with. But no empathy here. “It’s a different challenge there. We are not really focusing on what is going on there. We are determined to continue our success. If it wasn’t so good times at City, I am not sure they would be concerned with that.”
The retired player is the lone player liaison agent for City now, closely following the development path of youngsters. He compares England’s 2017 U-17 World Cup-winning squad to the Neymar, Coutinho batch of Brazil. However, a top talent like Jadon Sancho (has switched to Dortmund) and Phil Foden (with City but on the bench) live in the shadow of foreign players. Lescott acknowledges the reality.
“Credit to Jadon, he went there and saw opportunities. Phil is an immense talent. Training with the team can only give him the best chance to have an insight on what it takes to be a top player.”
First Published: Oct 09, 2018 09:10 IST
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