Everton's decision not to award a new contract to Phil Jagielka brings to an end a 12-year career characterised by consistency and exemplary leadership by example, one that was deserving of more success but which will nonetheless be remembered for a long time to come.
Had he done nothing else, Phil Jagielka would forever be revered in Everton folklore for one of the greatest strikes ever to grace a Merseyside derby.
It wasn’t just the nature of the defender’s goal in September 2014, a crisply-struck 25-yard missile that arced its way beautifully into the top corner of Simon Mignolet’s net, that was so remarkable. It was also the timing, stoppage time with the Toffees heading for an all-too-familiar Anfield defeat; the location, in front of the Kop; and the protagonist. Central defenders aren’t renowned for their ability to pull a “worldy” out of the top drawer but, like a certain Vincent Kompany for Manchester City, sometimes it’s a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.
“Jags”, as he came to be known (despite the fact that his surname is actually pronounced “Yag-yelka”) has always had more about him than the ordinary, non-Everton fan might suspect and there was plenty he achieved in his time with the Blues that will have earned him his place in club history. That he was once clocked as the fastest player in the Premier League came as a surprise to most because to the outsider and, perhaps, his fiercest critics of his international performances, Jagielka has probably had something of the mediocre about him.
To Evertonians, however, he came to known as Mr Dependable, a model of consistency and versatility, and, for the past six years, the club’s captain. Indeed, through five different managers (six if you include David Unsworth) and all of their varying styles and approaches to the game, Jagielka’s barely-wavering levels of performance have been the rock on which the team was founded, that was until this season when his advancing years necessitated a changing of the guard to Michael Keane, a player not unlike the veteran skipper in terms of style and demeanour.
His arrival at Goodison Park as a 24-year-old in July 2007 was not his first association with Everton, of course. Jagielka had been a YTS trainee at Bellefield 10 years previously but had left when the club’s Under-15s team was dismantled. That the Blues had to buy him back a decade later was seen as somewhat ironic but he would go on to repay what ultimately proved to be a very modest £4m fee many times over.
There was little about his early performances that suggested Jagielka would be one of the constants at Goodison over the next dozen years alongside Leighton Baines and, slightly later, Seamus Coleman, the last surviving Moyes signings in the Everton squad. Initially deployed by the Scot as a defensive midfielder, Jagielka was capable but not altogether convincing as a long-term incumbent of the role and he had a similar experience at right back.
That he could play in midfield at all was testament to his versatility — he even took the goalkeeping gloves and kept a clean sheet for his previous club, Sheffield United after the Blades’ goalkeeper was sent off. It was the third position he had been asked to play that day.
It wasn’t long before he dropped back to the central defensive role for which he would become renowned on Merseyside but even then he had a couple of alarming moments early on, not least a home game against Arsenal when he allowed hitherto unknown striker Eduardo to latch onto two long balls delivered over the top that resulted in a pair of goals and a win for the Gunners. Such lapses would become increasingly rare, however, and he soon established himself as a first-choice centre-half alongside Joseph Yobo while Joleon Lescott was moved by Moyes over to left-back.
His unflappable nature was key to another of the more indelible moments of his Everton career — his ice-cool penalty in a shootout at Wembley that decided an FA Cup semi-final in 2009 against Manchester United. He wouldn’t get the chance to help Everton to what might have been the pinnacle of his career with the club, though; he ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament almost immediately afterwards and was ruled out of the Final against Chelsea which would end in agony for the Blues despite Louis Saha scoring the opening goal in record-fast time.
Thankfully, Jags would recover fully and in time for the 2010 World Cup but his lack of playing time likely prevented his inclusion in what ended up being a hugely disappointing tournament for the national team. He would be in Brazil four years later, however, in a starting role but together with his club-mate Baines, was unfairly singled out for blame in the end for what was another harrowing experience for England on the world stage.
In the meantime, Jagielka had become a vital element in Everton’s transition from the 11-year Moyes era to the uncertainty of Roberto Martinez’s tenure whereupon he assumed the captaincy from the departing Phil Neville. The Catalan had been appointed on the back of an FA Cup triumph but also Wigan Athletic’s demotion from the Premier League and there was a great deal of concern that the new manager’s disconcerting defensive record at his previous club would eventually undermine what had been a core feature of strength under Moyes.
Those fears were ultimately born out — not before an at-times electrifying first season, an initially promising Europa League run the following year and another FA Cup semi-final under Martinez — but while it would appear easy to lay the blame at the feet of a defence made up Baines, Jagielka, Coleman, and future two-time Premier League winner John Stones, the issues that came to define Martinez’s reign went much deeper than the defensive personnel and their abilities. In the end, Jagielka would outlast the Catalan and kept his place in Everton’s back line for two years after Stones, the player who was being groomed as his potential replacement, was sold to City.
Phil Jagielka scores that sublime stoppage-time equaliser in front of the Kop in 2014
Stones would usurp him in the national side, but not before Jags was handed the honour of becoming the first current Everton player in history to captain England when he led the Three Lions out at Wembley against Lithuania in October 2015. It was a personal high point but it came at the tail end of his international career as he was overlooked by Roy Hodgson for Euro2016, another debacle that the eligible Everton contingent (Stones and Ross Barkley travelled but didn’t play) were better off out of.
Evertonians have, historically, had a complicated relationship with the England setup anyway so Jagielka’s importance was always more highly valued at Goodison. He had demonstrated that at Wembley in that FA Cup semi-final, again against United, in April 2016 when the skipper was brought back prematurely from a hamstring problem at the end of an injury-disrupted season to lead a patched-up defence in search of what could very well have been cup glory that season had Anthony Martial not destroyed the dream.
He couldn’t prevent a gut-wrenching Red Devils winner in stoppage time but, typically, a half-fit Jagielka performed in the manner befitting his reputation at Everton and he would continue to do so when called upon during his final three seasons with the club. He fell out of favour during Ronald Koeman’s first season in charge as Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori were called upon to form a partnership but returned for the second half of 2016-17 and scored three games on the bounce as Everton secured a seventh-placed finish.
He was back at the heart of the defence the following season as Koeman’s reign imploded but by the time Marco Silva had taken the reins and was preparing for his first season in charge, Jags was approaching his 36th birthday and it was inevitable that, having already signed Yerry Mina, the Portuguese would seek to bolster his defence further with the acquisition of Kurt Zouma on loan.
Jagielka was in the side when the new season kicked off but was harshly sent off in the opening-day draw at Wolves and by the time he was eligible again, Zouma and Keane had begun to establish an important pairing in the heart of the Blues’ back line. He would make just four starts all season but one of his last was emblematic of the kind of player he was. Called into action unexpectedly just before kick-off after Keane was deemed to ill play, the captain scored the only goal and put in another of his resilient, indefatigable performances to earn a rare win over a perennially frustrating opponent.
Like Baines, who could join him in leaving Everton after 12 years, Jagielka will be remembered fondly by Blues fans who, like him no doubt, will feel rueful that his efforts for the club weren’t ever rewarded with a trophy. He may have not have been the in-your-face, referee-badgering captain that some felt Everton have needed at times, but he unquestionably led by example with dignity, humility and understated strength.
It’s a shame that all careers are eventually brought to an end by the realities of time because it has felt as though Jags might go on forever. A debilitating ACL injury and a couple of serious medial knee ligament tears didn’t seem to diminish his powers an iota but sporadic knee cartilage problems reared their head within the past year, giving the first indications that his ability to be a reliable backup was waning.
In that regard, the decision not to award him another year is the right one, even if it leaves the club needing to secure to centre-halves this summer if Zouma can’t be prised away from Chelsea. It allows Silva to plan for the future and gives Jagielka a chance to pursue other opportunities elsewhere, perhaps at his old club Sheffield United or, more locally, at somewhere like Wigan. And if, as seems likely, he were to go down the coaching route and earn his badges, he would surely be welcomed back at Finch Farm with open arms.
Reader Comments (32)
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1 Posted 05/06/2019 at 07:58:22
2 Posted 05/06/2019 at 08:49:23
It's the right decision though, as the club needs to move away from this nice 'peoples club' (God I hate that term) mentality.
Seamus now is the natural successor but wouldn't mind a number 2 with some 'bite in him, as the club is seriously lacking in that department.
3 Posted 05/06/2019 at 10:19:51
All the very best to Jagielka who has been an embodiment of professionalism, dignity, competitiveness and has earned Everton respect over the years. He was the quintessential Moyes signing - relatively cheap, with something to prove, the right work ethic, grounded, team player, a fans favourite, would never rock the boat. One of a dying breed too footballers.
4 Posted 05/06/2019 at 11:35:06
Proud to have had Phil as our captain, good luck to him in the future.
5 Posted 05/06/2019 at 13:22:48
6 Posted 05/06/2019 at 13:35:13
I wish him the best of luck. I don't think he'll go to Sheff Utd but have no doubt there'll be other clubs interested in him.
7 Posted 05/06/2019 at 13:37:30
8 Posted 05/06/2019 at 14:02:40
9 Posted 05/06/2019 at 15:33:22
I never quite agreed with the decision to make him Captain but that does not detract from what a fine player and model professional Jagielka is/was. The club should have acted with more clarity and dignity with such a distinguished player. Ditto Baines. The fact that Jagielka announced it first via his social media long after the last game of the season is a real lack of class from the club.
10 Posted 05/06/2019 at 15:40:32
11 Posted 05/06/2019 at 15:52:23
Also, whos to know whether the decision has only just been made. They could have still been contemplating an extension at the last game.
Personally, Im hoping this means there is a centre back lined up, or its a poor decision to let good cover go.
12 Posted 05/06/2019 at 15:54:38
13 Posted 05/06/2019 at 16:20:12
“Best centre back in England? Hes not even the best centre back at Everton”
14 Posted 05/06/2019 at 16:30:07
The Kop goal was the defining instant of his career (I watched it in my living room with fellow Oregon TWer Paul Columb, and jumped over the couch). But he will always be special to me personally for the fact that on the emotional day when I first visited Goodison, he scored the gamewinner against Leicester... a crashing header off a corner. And the following week against Burnley, he scored again and capped the moment with a cartwheel down the end line. Joyous moments.
Alan #10, he specifically addressed this in an interview last January, confirming that the hard "J" used by most people and even his teammates was what he considered his football or stage name, but that "Yag-yelka" is correct: https://www.90min.com/posts/5959696-everton-captain-jagielka-reveals-why-he-s-fine-with-everyone-mispronouncing-his-name
15 Posted 05/06/2019 at 16:38:18
What a wonderful example to all young footballers on how to conduct yourself.
The man oozed class on and off the pitch.
Its just a pity he hasnt got a winners medal to go with his England caps and captaincy of Everton.
I hope a testimonial is being planned, maybe a Jags 11 against a Bainesy 11 would be appropriate.
16 Posted 05/06/2019 at 16:43:26
I'm not surprised by the announcement as we all know age is the main reason. I like to think that even if Zouma is a non-starter that Everton do have someone else in mind to fill the void apart from Holgate.
17 Posted 05/06/2019 at 16:48:28
18 Posted 05/06/2019 at 17:08:21
Jags has been an excellent player for us. And in an era when we have had little to cheer, his penalty against Man Utd (when he took surely the faster ever run up to a spot kick) led to to a few minutes of joyous delirium at Wembley.
19 Posted 05/06/2019 at 20:06:28
He was often criticised for not being 'vocal' enough, but again I think it's a little unfair. I thought the strongest centre back pairing was him and the much maligned Lescott.
Think it was the Anfield derby cup tie some years ago, at a time when Torres was probably the best centre forward in europe, they simply never gave him a kick all game, they both had tremendous pace, such was their dominance.
It saddens me a little when I hear of the 'legend' status given to Snodin and Graham Stuart, who both spent very few years at the club compared to Jags, the only difference is that they finished their career's with a trophy.
A proper unsung hero, best of luck to whatever he decides to do next.
20 Posted 05/06/2019 at 20:55:26
Good luck Jags and all the best for the future.
21 Posted 05/06/2019 at 21:39:11
Is it true he heard by Twitter that he was being let go? I do hope not.
22 Posted 05/06/2019 at 22:15:57
Browning played a ball in, headed out to McGeady, ball in again, headed out to Jagielka.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT???????
An Exocet launched off the outside of Jags right boot almost took the net off.
Total silence - broken only by my hysterical scream of YERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRS (after I had waited for it to be disallowed for too hard a shot, or no goals outside the box etc)
A few laps of honour followed before I slid across the floor on my knees, arms aloft, to where my brother and mate sat.
I had, of course, forgotten that I was wearing flip flops and shorts. Cue blistered knees and bruised big toe!
Thanks Jags, for one of the most truly uplifting moments in my life. The rest of the holiday was a kopite baiting gas!
I can remember him being played in midfield, then right back and quite honestly being poor, before settling into centre defence at the time when Moyes didn't play Baines either, and had Lescott at left back. When they were finally moved in to the middle of defence, they came into their own.
Good luck in the future skipper, and it would be magnificent of the club if they could organise a pre-season friendly testimonial for you to give you the send off you deserve.
23 Posted 06/06/2019 at 07:58:43
24 Posted 06/06/2019 at 09:14:44
Thanks and good luck Phil.
25 Posted 06/06/2019 at 15:37:43
I sort of sat on my granddads couch with this burst of joy trapped inside.
26 Posted 06/06/2019 at 15:51:26
27 Posted 07/06/2019 at 11:56:23
28 Posted 08/06/2019 at 01:25:54
29 Posted 08/06/2019 at 09:00:50
30 Posted 10/06/2019 at 00:18:59
I remember not being convinced about him. Seemed to be playing 'above' himself. But then he just kept on doing it until you realised that was the player he was. All action, brave, committed, last ditch stuff was the norm.
For a few seasons it's not exaggerating to say he was absolutely outstanding.
Good luck to him.
31 Posted 23/06/2019 at 00:36:55
Special player who was loyal. Best centre half since Ratcliffe.
32 Posted 24/06/2019 at 12:44:27
I was in deepest, darkest Borneo in a shitty bar when he twatted the ball into the RS net from 30 yards for that equaliser, and I'll never forget the stunned silence apart from me and one other blue who's name I forget now. The house-band even stopped playing we made so much noise. Cheers Jags.
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