As moments go, to bow out coming on in a game that is already won to see out a 4th consecutive home win and a 5th consecutive home clean sheet is about as good as it gets for a defender. It felt a fitting way for Jagielka to potentially say goodbye to Everton and for the fans to pass on their appreciation for a player who has provided a sterling service to the club over the last 12 years. To remember Jagielka’s Everton career to me is to remember 3 distinct parts; his initial partnership with Joleon Lescott, recovery from injury and a 2nd partnership with Sylvain Distin and finally a sporadic ending to his career where he would often provide Everton with a degree of consistency and security that had otherwise been lacking from Everton teams.
He was signed in 2007/8 for a fee of £4 million. If you use the inflation calculator it worked out at around £7 million in todays money (though had he been signed the season before or after it would have been upwards of £12 million). Whichever way the fee is diced and whichever context or value you wish to attribute towards it, what remains clear is Jagielka has proven fantastic value over his career.
When I think back to that particular summer two contrasting feelings come back to me. The first was it marked the end of a period of relatively plush recruitment for David Moyes. Primarily following the money earned by the Wayne Rooney record transfer, but also increased revenues for league positioning, Everton had a level of flexibility in the transfer market that had not existed for 10+ years (and would not really exist again until the TV deals started radically increasing). The summer Jagielka arrived followed summers where the likes of Arteta, Neville, Lescott, Howard & Johnson were matched with younger players such as Osman and Hibbert. He would arrive alongside Leighton Baines and Steven Peinaar in a 2-3 year period where Moyes really established an ethos and blueprint on his team which went beyond just playing the percentages to win narrow games. Jagielka was really one of the final pieces of the jigsaw for this.
That summer would also be marked as a final positive one in that period and what often followed after this was a great deal of difficulty in recruiting. The spiraling costs were simply out of chairman Bill Kenwrights ability to compensate against. The season after Jagielka arrives Manchester City are bought out by the Sheikhs. For Everton and particularly that Everton team who had got themselves on the fringes of greatness it would be a cruel blow as they fell behind another side. The moment Jagielka arrives was probably the moment Everton begin to plateau in their development.
It would be worth noting that wile Jagielka arrived as one of the final cogs in the wheel he was by no means seen as a pivotal cog at the time. He had captained the Sheffield United team who had been relegated and played in a number of positions (midfield, right back and centre back). It looked a prudent signing from Moyes as he could help cover a number of positions but I would question how far people felt he would go on to become an England International with numerous caps. In his first season he didn’t initially play. Veteran defender Alan Stubbs was paired with Nigerian favourite Joseph Yobo, while Joleon Lescott filled in at left back. When Stubbs was injured Lescott moved inside and Baines moved to left back. It was only in the late autumn when Baines was injured that Jagielka got a chance to play at the heart of the defence. It would be a position he would not relinquish for 18 months.
The initial partnership was with Yobo, but over time Lescott would eventually be paired up with him. Lescott had power, strength and composure on the ball, Jagielka possessed similar levels of speed but also a willingness to put his body in the way of shots. As a partnership they mirrored Vidic and Ferdinand (who themselves were arguably the best partnership in Europe). Where I had initially been concerned at the lack of height for Jagielka this was more than made up for with the spring he had and the aggression he showed when attacking the ball.
His partnership was the first of two notable ones that he struck up in the Everton defence. For those not old enough to remember the 80’s teams it is arguably the greatest defensive partnership they have seen at the club. There was a cup run around this time where Jagielka and Lescott controlled and dominated arguably the best front pairing in the league (Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres) and would knock out Liverpool, Manchester United and (high flying) Aston Villa along the way. Tragically for both Everton and Jagielka he suffered a severe cruciate ligament injury weeks before the cup final and with the loss of himself and midfielder Arteta the challenge of Chelsea was one step too far for the team. Had both been fit the outcome of the final may well have been different.
While Everton would lose Jagielka to injury they also lost Joleon Lescott an an acrimonious transfer to newly monied Manchester City. Two centre backs were bought in replacement (Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga). Over the next 2-3 seasons Jagielka would play with both though over time the preferred partnership would become with Sylvain Distin. The additional power, height and strength helped Jagielka who was not the biggest centre back standing at 180cm.
While I would not say Jagielka and Distin quite hit the heights of the Lescott/Jagielka partnership it is worth noting that they played together over a much longer period and over the course of their partnership they perhaps left a more indelible mark upon the club. Jagielka began to adapt his game to be a player who read the game more and allowed for Distin to deal with the physical threats that were apparent.
Once Distin left the club Jagielka entered what may be described as the third and final phase of his Everton career. What has been striking is that for the last 3-4 seasons there appears to have been some desire to move him on, yet each manager has not just kept him but turned to him as the season has dragged on. Some of the performances he has put in may well have been what the club were hoping to get from Ashley Williams who has proven a failure of a signing and this ought to have underlined Jagielka’s performances over the past 3 seasons.
The performance that stands out for me in this time was the performance in last seasons Goodison derby where Everton held local rivals to a 0-0 draw. Jagielka was the best player on the pitch that night and cleared everything away that came into his channel. In each of the last 3 season’s he has ended strongly which in no small part is down to the pace of the league slowing as the season drags on and his own ability to read the game being able to shine through.
When you evaluate Jagielka’s value to Everton it is important to note he was not a one off but rather indicative of a broader approach that emerged mid way through the previous decade. A club with limited money but a manager who was pragmatic enough to look for unorthodox players to solve problems gave him an opportunity. A team was cultivated around (and including) Jagielka that would go on to make significant appearances for the club.
If you look at appearances made for the club Jagielka ranks 19th on Everton’s all time appearances list for league games and 20th for game sin all competitions. He is surrounded by teammates he shared a dressing room with (or in some cases was signed alongside). You have Osman who ranks 14 (league only) & 10th (all games), Howard (13 & 13) Baines (16 & 14), Hibbert (35 & 28) Coleman (43 & 45), Cahill (55 & 47) & Yobo (62 & 59). Alongside these signings are players such as Unsworth (24 & 24) & Ferguson (not ranked in top 70 & 51). All of the above players were bought in for modest fees and have proven exceptional value to the club. In an era where we appear to have far greater sums of money it is worth remembering that great teams are not just bought but have to be developed over time.
While none of the above players could really be called legends for a club that has won the league on 9 separate occasions, they have all made a significant impact for the club. Jagielka has offered a degree of calm and security over the last 3-4 seasons that has helped keep the club on an even keel. While he may not be one of Everton’s most decorated footballers, he deserves his place in the top 20 appearances holders and is a footballer who has played a significant role in the evolution of the club. For that we wish him well and hope to see him back involved with the club at some point in the future.