[OPINION] Defender, Leader, Captain… Goalkeeper? – Phil Jagielka.

This week, we take a look at our stalwart, Phil Jagielka.

Jags was never destined to become Everton’s defensive leader, some might argue he still isn’t, but either way, nobody can deny that he is one of the greatest English defenders of his generation.

However, things shouldn’t have panned out the way they did for the Manchester-born England international…

Pace to burn.
‘I’ve never seen anyone run away from him’.

Leighton Baines’ words dumbfounded many a Premier League fan during the 14/15 season…

Phil Jagielka was never a Centre half in his youth. He was playing for his schools’ teams deployed at Right wing and was playing against kids much older than him. He was always gifted, and that could be why he ended up at three very high-profile academies: Everton, Stoke City and Manchester City. The academies continued to see his pace as one of his defining features, and he continued on his career as a Right winger.

Today however, his pace goes largely unrecognised by the Premier League, but he continues to showcase his quick feet when he is called upon. This came to a head as he was proven to be the Premier League’s fastest player in the 14/15 season, which prompted Leighton Baines to jump to his Captain’s side as he said that Jagielka was ‘Never interested in plaudits’.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

Jags joined Sheffield Wednesday’s squad at just 15 years old in 1998, and made his debut at the tender age of 17- whilst still on an academic contract with the club- in the last game of the 1999-2000 season in the First Division.

After a successful debut and few months with the club, he was handed his first professional contract which ran from January 2001 for three years, and in this time, his abilities were showcased in the First Division.

He started to attract the attention of many Premier League clubs around this time, as Leeds United were linked with a £6m double move for Jagielka and his Sheffield teammate Michael Brown, but the move never materialised in the end, as manager at the time Neil Warnock said that the club would reject any approaches for the pair.

So, Leeds’ loss was Everton’s gain in the long run, as the defensive stalwart would go on to join the blues in 2007, but one more notable situation surfaced mid way through the 2006-07 season, Sheffield United’s first season back in the Premier League.

Phil Jagielka. Utility Man.
”I have always been half-decent in goal!”

On a bleak and blustery December afternoon at Bramall Lane during the 2006-07 season, few were expecting a largely struggling Sheffield United to pull off a shock against Arsenal; and even fewer were expecting a clean sheet for the Blades, but Arsenal were held at bay in the most extraordinary circumstances.

First-choice keeper Paddy Kenny suffered an injury early in the second half, and since the League rules at the time meant teams were only permitted 5 subs on the bench, and Neil Warnock had not selected a goalkeeper.

This meant that Phil Jagielka was forced to play a bit further back than usual, and he played his first game in goal in what would become quite an odd trait for the England International.

After a superb late save from the Centre Half turned ‘Keeper, United held on and upset high-flying Arsenal, and Jagielka turned in a MOTM performance.

On to pastures new.
“I think he will definitely go”

Paddy Kenny publicly said that he believed it was time for Jagielka to move on after United were relegated in their first season back in the top flight since 1994. And move on he did, as a £4m transfer went through on 4th July 2007, where he signed for Moyes’ Everton. Jagielka’s run of 133 consecutive games for Sheffield United was only halted by his transfer to Everton, and his consistency has been noted by many.

Jagielka struggled to adapt at first in his new team, but kicked on midway through the 2007-08 season where he put in 3 outstanding performances against Spurs, Europa League opposition SK Brann, and Manchester City. He became a mainstay in Everton’s first team, as Everton finally found their partner to Joseph Yobo and a consistent Centre Half, something which eluded Moyes in his early Everton years.

Potential achieved, but success elusive.
“Football can be cruel at times,”

Phil Jagielka has been ever-present in all three Everton iterations while he’s been here. He was a stalwart in Moyes’ time, and saw himself called up to Fabio Capello’s England squad at the peak of his ability. However, his international career was halted in the cruellest of fashions as he suffered knee ligament injuries in early 2009. He subsequently missed over half of the 2009/10 season, to his dismay.

Moyes’ words rang true as Everton were dealt a cruel hand and the Blues suffered tremendously in the early 2010/11 season, missing their leader at the back after the horrific injury.

From Sheffield’s Right Winger, to Everton’s Centre Half Captain.
”the time has come for me to grow up”

After David Moyes took over at Manchester United, club captain Phil Neville went with him to join his coaching staff, leaving Everton without a manager and Captain.

We’re not here to discuss Roberto Martinez-thankfully- so, onto Everton’s new captain. Step forward, Phil Jagielka.
Jagielka admitted that he needed to mature as a player after being given the Everton captaincy, and he most certainly did. Following a blistering 13/14 campaign, he had no idea of the defensive hell he would have to endure for the next two years. Being the only beacon of hope in the 14/15 season, he picked up all of the club’s End of Season awards, but the individual success was never what Jagielka was about. He is Everton, through and through, only the club matters to him.

Old dog, new tricks?
“He was a fantastic player and he’s proving to be a fantastic coach,”

In the summer of 2016, one of the greatest centre-backs of all time was to be appointed manager of Everton, as Ronald Koeman made the trip up north from Southampton. Now, after two seasons of defensive insecurity, Jagielka finally has a guide to follow. There is no doubting that Koeman can teach Jagielka – even in the twilight days of his career- and will progress him even further as a player.

So, it’s Jags’ time to show us why he was named Captain in the first place, to be the voice of security and authority for the club. Especially as we tread into uncertain waters, with a new horizon approaching for the Mersey Millionaires.
It’s time for Jags to lead by example, on and off the pitch.

It’s time for him to evolve again as a player, and truly reach his potential.

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