Lescott Looks Back On 'Crucial' Everton Years

Now an accomplished television pundit, former England international and two-time Premier League winner  Joleon Lescott called time on a hugely successful playing career in 2017.

But the former Toffees defender was not always a household name in English football – as he was reminded shortly after becoming a Blue.

“It’s funny because when I signed for Everton, I’d been there for about a week or so, and I remember Joseph Yobo coming up to me and asking what position I played in,” Lescott recalls. “That was a wake-up call.

“At Wolves, I was playing and I was recognised and then I came here, where David Moyes had spoken to me about Joseph and myself playing together, and he didn’t even know who I was! That was a bit of a shock to the system, but probably a good thing because it showed I had to start afresh.”

That start came in 2006, when the then 23-year-old joined David Moyes’ Everton from his boyhood club Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Lescott was one of just two permanent signings for the Blues that summer, and, although rumours circulated at the time of a flare up of a previous knee issue, it was Everton’s other acquisition that caused a delay to finalising the deal for the promising central defender.

“I first heard about the move after the season finished in 2006,” said Lescott, remembering how the transfer came to fruition. “I was aware I was going to be leaving Wolves at the end of that season and I spoke to David Moyes prior to the season finishing. He was showing interest and stated that I was someone he wanted to sign.

“Then, the first part moved quite quickly and smoothly. There was interest and they made a bid. I came up to Liverpool to do a medical, but they were also trying to negotiate the Andrew Johnson move at the same time.

“Because of that, my transfer stalled a bit. It was frustrating at the time because my medical took more than two weeks. It took a long time. There were question marks over my knee, which wasn’t really an issue.

Joleon Lescott
I’d say some of my best individual performances were at Everton. I’m very aware of how important my time at the Club was for me as a person.

“It was just the Andrew Johnson signing had taken priority, which happens, but that was a frustrating part from my side of it.”

Before the move to Merseyside, Birmingham-born Lescott had come through the ranks at Wolves - first joining at 14, turning professional in 2000, before making 227 senior appearances for the Molineux club, collecting two Player of the Season awards along the way.

Hailed as “the best centre-half in the Championship" by Moyes at the time, the Everton manager assured: "Joleon is someone we have watched for quite a long time and fortunately this time, we have been able to get our man."

The step up from Championship to Premier League standard was not always easy, explains Lescott, who remembers: “Some games were difficult, but not my actual Everton debut, because that was against Watford, who had just come up. I’d played against them in the previous year. 

“I came on – I think with 20 minutes to go and played left-back. I’d never played there before. I remember misplacing a pass and the reaction to it. That was a moment when I realised how it’s different level in the Premier League, and with that, comes a different level of scrutiny.

“I realised I had to understand what it takes to play in this division, and that you’ve got to enjoy those challenges.”

The jump in standard was also felt in-house on the training pitch. Describing the early days after his arrival, he explains: “Mikel [Arteta] definitely stood out straight away in training.

“He was really good. But in terms of helping me to settle in, Gary Naysmith and Lee Carsley were great for me. James Beattie, too. It wasn’t just a case of on the pitch, it was more the support off the field that I needed.”

A first start for Lescott arrived in the Blues’ third game of the season – an away trip to Tottenham which saw Everton pick up their first victory at White Hart Lane in more than two decades.

An unbeaten run, which lasted until mid-October, was still in its infancy when, in the next game, Lescott started in a 3-0 Merseyside derby triumph at Goodison Park. Tim Cahill opened the scoring, before a brace from Johnson made it four goals in as many appearances for the new striker.

Competition for places amongst Yobo, David Weir and Alan Stubbs, meant that Lescott was sometimes deployed as a utility player, operating at left-back, midfield or in his favoured centre-back position, but regardless, assured displays until the season’s conclusion saw him become an invaluable cog within the Blues system, impressing enough to win the Club’s Players’ Player of the Season award for his maiden campaign.

He topped that the following year. This time, retaining the award, while also being named Everton’s Player of the Season, following a campaign which saw the defender net eight league goals from a Blues backline that conceded the fifth fewest number of goals in the division.

The octet of strikes ensured Lescott finished the Premier League season as the Club’s second highest goalscorer, behind only Yakubu, while matching the goal tally of top-flight strikers Didier Drogba and Jermain Defoe. Perhaps surprising to delighted Evertonians at the time, Lescott admits the offensive potency was a skill he had worked on.

“I used to try to put myself in goalscoring positions, but never converted enough,” he says. “Just before I left Wolves, under Glenn Hoddle, he used to make me do finishing sessions on my own. I remember asking him why, and he told me that I was getting in positions to score but wasn’t being clinical enough.

“So, I focused on that in those sessions, as well as working on recognising when those opportunities would arise.”

Lescott remembers his time working under Hoddle with great warmth. His relationship with Moyes was more pragmatic but, nevertheless, he became an important player for the former Blues manager, missing just two Premier League games in his three full seasons at Everton, where he featured in a side that finished seventh twice and fifth once.

“I think at the time, we probably didn’t see eye to eye as much as it may have seemed,” admits Lescott, describing his time working under Moyes. “But we understood what we could do for each other. I’d help the team and he’d definitely help me as an individual to get better. 

“He’d challenge me, but I knew I needed to perform to get picked. That was the motivation in training – to perform well and then hopefully be picked on a matchday, and that tended to happen more often than not.”

A fifth-placed league finish followed in Lescott's third and final full season for the Blues, and this featured alongside an FA Cup final appearance – a personal highlight for Lescott, who fondly remembers his time with Everton.

Getting to the [2009] FA Cup final was a huge occasion,” he recalls. “It’s just a shame we faced a team in Chelsea that probably had one of the strongest squads the Premier League has seen.

“In my time there, we were consistently strong, and we would contest for European places. It was us, Villa, and Spurs that were trying to break into the top four, as it was then. As a team we did well. There were great moments. I’d like to think my time at Everton was successful.”

Rewind three years and Wolves Chief Executive Jez Moxey had predicted: "We are sure [Lescott] will develop into an exceptionally good Premiership player for Everton". Moxey was to be proved to be correct, as his former player went on to become a two-time Toffees Players’ Player of the Season across a three-year period, which saw him rack up 143 appearances, before being sold for a fee bettered only by the Club’s sale of Wayne Rooney at the time.

Despite nowadays being known more for his five years at Manchester City, Lescott recognises his years in royal blue were some of the most important of his career.

“I definitely don’t disregard my time at Everton,” he insists. “It was crucial for my development and for my career, and I’d say that some of my best individual performances were at Everton. I’m very aware of how important my time at the Club was for me as a person.

“I had to move away from home, too, so it helped me to develop off the pitch as well. I moved up to Cheshire when I moved to Everton and I still live there now.”

When Lescott headed down the East Lancs to join cash-laden City in 2009, he arrived in the same transfer window as Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz.

Adding three of the top eight Premier League scorers from the previous season, one of whom, in Tevez, was acquired from city rivals, Manchester United, showcased a sign of intent from the new ownership at the Manchester club. Such evident ambition convinced Lescott to make the move to the Etihad – a decision that was met with a disgruntled reaction by Evertonians during the only game Lescott played for the Toffees during the 2009/10 season.

In his final term with Everton – and, indeed, historically – Lescott’s new club had been in Everton’s rear-view mirror when it came to league standings.

But the centre-back formed a key part of new owner Sheikh Mansour’s first summer transfer spending – a window that would set the ball in motion for Manchester City’s seven Premier League titles to follow. 

“The way it ended at Everton wasn’t great,” Lescott reflects. “But I hope the fans can recognise my decision and appreciate it. The more Evertonians I speak to, they seem to recognise that.

“I believed I could go there to make an impact. That was the goal. At the time, Everton were finishing higher than Man City, but City were trying to assemble a squad to compete at the top. 

“I was 27 and going in there with more experience than some of the other players, so my role was slightly different than it was at Everton, but equally as important.”

The additions eventually proved successful for the Citizens, who won the FA Cup in 2011 and then, 12 months later, picked up a first league title since 1968. 

Despite the ever-growing nature of City’s squad, and the improving quality within it, Lescott maintains that keeping up with those increasing levels was not the toughest task. 

Joleon Lescott
The way it ended at Everton wasn’t great. But I hope the fans can recognise my decision and appreciate it.

“At Man City, I used to ask Robinho to do one-on-one drills with me after training,” he explains. “I knew if I could prevent Robinho from taking me on, then I’d be okay.

“The difficult part about being in the squad was the rotation, but that wasn’t an issue solely with me,” he said. “I could perform well and still not be in the team, so it was hard to grasp that, but you had to. The manager had to keep 25 players happy and have an XI to compete.

“At Man City then, and a lot of teams nowadays, it goes off what the manager sees fit. There’s a lot of data used and consideration for injury prevention to rotate squads.

“I’d come from an era when if you played well, you started the next game. If you won, you’d stay in the team, and managers wouldn’t rotate too much.”

Subsequent moves to West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, AEK Athens, and Sunderland followed for the centre-back, who eventually retired in 2017. Despite the decision to step away, Lescott has gone on to build a successful career in television punditry, where he now regularly features on TNT Sports for coverage of Premier League and UEFA Champions League matches.

Alongside that role, it was announced in August 2021 that Lescott would join the coaching set-up with the England Under-21s. Managed by former Blue, Lee Carsley, the Young Lions – featuring current Blues James Garner and Jarrad Branthwaite – triumphed at the 2023 European Championships, beating Spain in the final to win their first title in the competition since 1984.

Lescott, although successful in both the fields of his post-playing work, admits neither were planned, while also revealing a separate passion could emerge into another career path in the future.

“I didn’t have my mind set on either of them, really,” he insists. “But I want to be involved in the game. I recently finished a degree in Sport Directorship. 

“I’d like to work with players and their development through mentoring. I enjoy that side of the game. I think that’s important for younger players in academies to have that support, guidance, and understanding of what it takes to be a professional.

“There is so much talent around, but I’m not sure every young player knows what it takes to be a professional – the standards you need, the habits, and the consistency and decision-making.

“That’s the path I aim to take in the future, but I enjoy what I do now and the opportunities I’m given. I’m not in any rush to make a decision on one thing just yet.”