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May 27, 2014

Lescott made his mark on City

Whether or not you feel that, when in charge of Manchester City, Mark Hughes spent his money wisely, it's difficult to argue against the fact that a large number of his signings were influential in transforming the Blues from mid-table obscurity into title challengers. While there was some overspend -- difficult to say otherwise, given the likes of Roque Santa Cruz or Wayne Bridge coming in -- there were some bargains too, with current defensive mainstays Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta springing instantly to mind.

One man that many felt the Welshman paid too much for was Joleon Lescott, as he sanctioned a transfer of a reported 24 million pounds to Everton's bank account in August 2009. It certainly didn't look value for money and the irony for Hughes was that it was largely down to a dodgy defence that his job became under threat. When paired with Kolo Toure, Lescott looked like a headless chicken: defending more by luck than judgement.

A series of draws eventually cost the Welshman his job; that his side needed to score three to gain a point from both relegation candidates -- Burnley at home and underperforming Bolton at the Reebok -- told the story.

Indeed, based on his first half of the 2009-10 season, nobody would have expected Lescott to see out his five year contract at the Blues, scooping up four medals in the process (two Premier League, one League Cup and one FA Cup), but that's exactly what he's done.

The defender's time at Eastlands very much demonstrates the evolution of Manchester City. Under the guidance of Roberto Mancini, Lescott became a valuable part of the team and one of the key components in the Italian tightening up the Blues' defence for the latter half of the 2009-10 campaign.

Paired with Kompany, the centre-backs went from strength to strength as Mancini built from the back. They ended the next season as the joint-meanest in the league, conceding the fewest goals (33) with Chelsea, and helped the club to a first trophy in 35 years with a fine FA Cup run that saw them not concede a goal after the fourth round replay with Notts County.

The Englishman performed the same trick the next campaign, too, building on his improvements throughout 2010-11 to remain a mainstay in the 2011-12 Premier League title-winning team. The fans even created a chant to honour how well he was playing and how secure the Blues looked -- he was doing the simple stuff well, winning possession and getting the ball to safety, meaning City were watertight and, again, the meanest defence conceded only 29 goals.

Despite this good form, however, the changes at the club would go on to show how Lescott had been left behind. The arrival of Matija Nastasic was surely a factor in the Englishman featuring less during 2012-13 (the two pretty much shared the left-centre-back position over the course of the season), though few could have expected the form the Serbian would show following his debut at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.

However, Mancini tinkered (albeit largely unsuccessfully) with the system and wanted to play a back three in an attempt to solve the width issues of the year before. It was in this formation that Lescott truly struggled and, following a dip from the whole team in a campaign that saw virtually everything go wrong, the defender's future became unsure. (One also got the impression that the manager didn't particularly trust the No. 6 following a near costly error against QPR in that remarkable end-of-season game in 2012 that saw Sergio Aguero seal the title with a late goal.)

Following the appointment of Manuel Pellegrini, Lescott's position looked in decent standing -- though it's difficult to say how much the Chilean would have gone with him in the starting line-up but for early season injuries to his rivals. He began the campaign in the team, however he was one of only two fit centre-backs at the club and quickly became the only one not needing treatment, following an injury to Kompany against Newcastle.

After being dropped for the fourth match of the season, he made one appearance in the next six games -- in the League Cup against Wigan -- and after that, his Premier League starts were few and far between, with even midfielder Javi Garcia ahead of him in the pecking order.

The problem was the change of style under the new manager: quite simply, Lescott's no nonsense attitude to defending wasn't what Pellegrini was after. There was nothing wrong with what he was doing, it was just a managerial preference; the Chilean wanted someone comfortable carrying the ball in possession, someone who would prefer to pass out from the back, and someone who didn't give off the impression that he didn't want the ball. Watching him, you always got the feeling Lescott was never comfortable with the ball at his feet, preferring to keep it as far away from his goal as possible.

Despite fleeting appearances, Lescott was an important part of the 2014 title win. He was also instrumental in the League Cup victory of the same year -- playing in every round bar the final. Having someone of his quality to call on in reserve was vital to getting the club over the line, even if it may have been a blow to his ego to have the ageing Martin Demichelis above him in the pecking order.

While the fans will thank him for what he's achieved with the club, he was never likely to be offered a new deal when his contract ran out this summer. Lescott will leave on good terms, having played a crucial role in transforming the Blues from mid-table obscurity to top-of-the-table powerhouses and, for the fans, it's touching that he's "top of the league" when he goes. As a free transfer, he could well have a positive impact wherever he ends up.