Ian Mills takes a look back at Phil Jagielka's Everton Career & why he will go down as an Everton legend.
380 games, 12 years a blue, club captain for 6 of them, the scorer of the best Merseyside Derby goal I’ve seen live, responsible for the winning penalty to fire us back to our first FA Cup Final in 13 years, the first Everton player to captain England and certainly one of our best modern centre back’s in history. All of the above never seemed to be a possibility from the man who played in goal, right back, centre half and centre midfield for Sheffield United in their 2006-2007 Premier league relegation season signed for Everton for £4m in June 2007.
The fact that he leaves the club with all of them proudly part of his Everton career is a testimony to not only the player, but the character.
I’ll be the first to admit, in a summer in which Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines, Yakubu were signed, Thomas Gravesen returned and the failure to land Manuel Fernandes on a permanent deal..... Phil Jagielka’s signing was not something I was particularly excited about.
Now it’s not that I was against the signing, not at all but I had simply nothing much to go by to get excited about. I remember like most, him going in goal for Sheffield Utd in a 1-0 win over Arsenal, but unlike Baines & Pienaar who had caught the eye in the past, and Yakubu, Gravesen and Fernandes who brought excitement, Jags signing was to me one of a jack of all trades or utility man if you like, who would cover as and when and be the perfect squad player. And in the first months of his Everton career, this was very much the case.
Substitute, right back, centre midfield and centre half seen Jags fit the very mould I expected. It wasn’t until Joseph Yobo went to the African Nations in January 2008 that I, and I guess ‘we’, seen what Jags could offer as a Premier league centre half. Alan Stubbs departure, coupled with Joseph’s absence seen the formation of the exceptional partnership of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, to this day the best centre half pairing I’ve seen in my 34 years as a blue.
Reading of the game, pace, strength, the ability to win duels and cover the right back who would attack were all of a sudden the bed rock of an Everton team competing to finish in the top 5 and finishing the season in the last 16 of the Europa League and last 4 of the Capital One Cup. Such were the level and consistency of his form, Joleon Lescott was moved to left back to accommodate Joseph Yobo’s return and Jags had cemented his place as the main Everton centre back.
A cruel twist of fate in his first season seen him miss the deciding spot kick in a Europa League tie against Fiorentina at Goodison but the recognition of how important he had become was never more apparent than a chant of ‘One Jagielka’, just moments later as he was consoled by team mates as they applauded the fans for their efforts that night. Fate would deal him a new hand the following season. Ever present in the side (even trusted to play next to the young Jack Rodwell in centre midfield at the start of the season), he would walk out at Wembley stadium in royal blue, challenged with beating Manchester United, the best team in Europe at the time and helping Everton into their first FA Cup Final since 1995.
With the game finished at 0-0, and United missing 2 of their 4 penalties, Phil Jageilka stepped up to take Everton’s 5th and deciding penalty. The obvious nerves and flashbacks didn’t show, as Jags found the bottom corner and sent the blue half of Wembley into raptures, firing Everton into the FA Cup final. Cruelly, Jags was denied the chance to walk out in the FA Cup final as a cruciate ligament injury just one week after the Semi Final kept him sidelined for 10 months. In the final, Everton succumb to a clinical Chelsea team with the game finishing 2-1. Ironically, the goal that levelled the game was scored by a physically dominant Drogba from a cross into the box. A cross which arguably, Jagielka would have relished defending! How we missed him that day. To this day, there is no doubt in my mind that his absence in that final was the biggest loss and in turn the biggest reason we didn’t’ return to Merseyside as FA Cup holders.
Not missing a beat, Jags was back 10 months on, thrown into a 2nd leg at Sporting Lisbon in which we had to defend for our lives, he continued the remainder of the season back at the heart of our defence, forming new partnerships with Sylvain Distin and later John Heitinga. Arsenal were persistent in their attempts to land Jags during this time; they had unsuccessful bids in 2010 and 2011 and with the Lescott departure fresh in Evertonian’s minds, how we feared he would move on, to deservedly play in the Champions league.
However, unlike Lescott who rocked the boat controversially when Everton rejected bids for his services, Jagielka remained loyal, cementing himself as one of Everton's and later his countries best defenders, committed to Everton Football Club. Character in abundance, Loyalty; limitless!
Never known for his outstanding distribution, some wondered if John Stones progression would see him replace Jagielka in Roberto Martinez’s new look ‘footballing’ side. Tasked with bringing the ball out from the back, playing it on the floor and starting the attack, he showed a different side to his game, keeping John Stones out of the side for large parts of the 2013-2014 season.
Now proudly wearing the club armband that David Moyes had assigned him with and Roberto Martinez trusted with him, he became the first Everton player to captain England in the same season he lifted a ball in to the top corner of the Kop end net in one of the best Merseyside derby goals in history. In typical Evertonian fashion, Jags celebrated holding the Crest proud to the away supporters.
Its things like that we as fans will remember, the passion, the character, the Evertonian. The saddest part of Jags leaving is that he becomes the latest in a long line of top players to not lift a trophy with Everton. He follows the likes of David Weir, Leon Osman, Phil Neville, Tony Hibbert, Tim Howard and Tim Cahill in captains who stressed their urgency in lifting a trophy as part of their Everton career, yet sadly never did.
To take anything from this, it is that this has to stop.
Players of Jagielka’s calibre, Evertonians of Jageilka’s character and commitment deserve more out of their Everton career, yet we wouldn’t change what he gave us for the world. Whatever he does next, wherever he goes, they're getting a top pro, and one of the best I’ve seen in a blue shirt.
Thanks Jags, NSNO