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Phil Jagielka believes his England destiny is now calling.
And when the Everton defender steps out against Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday night, he feels he can take another stride towards proving the John Terry international era is now just history.
When Terry exited England contention, on the eve of his FA misconduct charge hearing last month, it propelled Jagielka up Roy Hodgson’s pecking order.
The England boss feels his ideal central defensive partnership is comprised of a “leader” and a “listener”.
Terry and Jagielka were in the former category and with the Chelsea skipper out of the frame, the Goodison man returns to his family’s ancestral homeland today ready to demonstrate he now deserves to be seen as the cornerstone of Hodgson’s defensive unit.
“I’d like to be seen as the leader of the line,” said Jagielka. “I’ve just turned 30 and I’m not exactly a young lad anymore.
“I’ve played quite a few games in the Premier League and the Championship to get my experience and now I feel ready.
“Of course, when I heard John had decided he wasn’t going to be available for England any more I had mixed emotions - and if John was here I would say exactly the same thing.
“As an England fan, I was gutted. John has been a fantastic player for England, he’s put his body on the line for many years now.
“But he had his reasons and it was his decision - he wasn’t forced to do it with a gun to his head or anything.”
Jagielka added: “John and Rio Ferdinand played together for England forever, didn’t they?
“They had a great partnership and there were a couple of others behind them waiting for a game.
“I wouldn’t say I resigned myself to not being a regular but that’s the role you get put into, the situation I was in.
“But then John made his decision. It was his choice so, as I say, if you look at it from a purely personal point of view, it was one less person to compete with playing for England.
“As much as I was gutted he wasn’t going to play for England again, it was also an opportunity for me to try and go higher up the pecking order. We’ll have to wait a little bit longer to see who takes on the mantle of leading the back four but I’ll be chucking my name in the hat.”
For Jagielka, though, it is a contest he is in pole position to win, set to recreate his former Goodison club partnership with Joleon Lescott in the Polish capital.
They may have made for a somewhat uneasy pairing against Ukraine last month - as Jagielka accepts - but they also helped blunt Spain at Wembley last November and are unbeaten in the four matches they have started together for England.
“Looking back at Ukraine we were a little bit open,” conceded Jagielka, drafted in when Terry was injured in the romp over Moldova. “Sometimes that happens, we had to try to chase to get the goal.
“I don’t think we will look back on that game as our best performance ever. Ukraine had three or four good opportunities to score which, for us, was probably two or three too many.
“But I do find the element of partnership really important. If you’re telling the person something and he’s listening, you’re both on the same page. If sometimes you’re saying something and either they’re not hearing it or they’ve decided to do something else it puts you on the back foot.
“It was something that just came about with me and Joleon. We met playing at under-19, under-20 level, our birthdays are a day apart and we played together a lot, although when I first went to Everton Joleon had to play at left-back.
“I don’t know whether I’d call myself the leader of the partnership, although I might have a louder voice and I’m sure Joleon would say that.
“At the same time, I need him to tell me and to help me out just as much as I need to tell him what he has got around him to help him out.
“That’s the main thing. If you have got someone telling you what’s happening it keeps you on your toes. If you’re doing it back to him then you’re both going to be switched on for the majority of the game.”
More switched on than was required against San Marino on Friday, for what will be a genuine test.
Jagielka agreed: “Friday was strange, because I spent the game hoping nothing crazy happens, like it had done the last time we played them.
“But we know this is going to be totally different. It would be stupid of us to think that these two games are going to be the same and that we’re goign to get 85 per cent possession again.
“We have to deal with hard opposition but it’s a chance for us to get control of the group, to have a bit of a cushion. We will all be prepared and ready.”
Such is the disparity between England's task in Warsaw on Tuesday night and last Friday's against San Marino that Phil Jagielka must now prepare to nullify the threat of one of Europe's top strikers where previously he was tasked with subduing a forward who makes his living working for a furniture company.
Poland and, most significantly, Robert Lewandowski will put England's defence under infinitely more scrutiny than they experienced during the 5-0 victory at Wembley – a game in which sections of the near capacity home crowd gleefully roared the minnows forward at the faintest hint of an attack.
For Jagielka, who will play for the first time against the country of his grandfather's birth, it is another opportunity to convince Roy Hodgson that he should be first choice in the heart of England's defence. With John Terry and Rio Ferdinand out of the picture, forging a new and authoritative backline must be a priority for the manager.
"John and Rio played together for England forever, didn't they?" Jagielka said. "They had a great partnership and there were a couple of others behind them waiting for a game. So you are down a long list of players trying to get your chance but time passes and people have good form, bad form and you get your opportunities.
"I've been around the squad for the last couple of years or so, played a game here and there and I'd like to play on a more consistent basis. But if the boss said, 'Come here and play every other game,' I'd take that as well."
Terry's international retirement has thrown the door open for centre-halves who have spent so long on the periphery. Jagielka, 30, has only 15 caps, despite five years at Everton where he has thrived under David Moyes and developed into an accomplished Premier League player.
The Chelsea captain's withdrawal from England duty has been a contentious issue. However, for Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Joleon Lescott it offers an opportunity to cement a regular place in the starting XI. With the youngsters Phil Jones and Chris Smalling expected to progress over the next few years, there may not be a better time to grasp such a chance.
Asked if there were mixed emotions when Terry retired, Jagielka was refreshingly honest. "Yes, definitely," he said. "If John was here, I would say exactly the same thing. Gutted for being an England fan – he has been a fantastic player for England. He's put his body on the line for many years now but he had his reasons. It was his decision, he wasn't forced. It was his choice so, if you look at it from a purely personal point of view, it was one less person to compete with playing for England. As much as I was gutted he wasn't going to play for England again, it was also an opportunity for me to try and go higher up the pecking order."
Lescott will return to the side in Warsaw after being rested against San Marino. The Manchester City defender was preferred to Jagielka during the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine but a partnership between the two, forged during Lescott's time at Goodison Park, could be England's strongest pairing during qualification for Brazil 2014.
"Me and Joleon met playing football, Under-19s, England Under-20s. There's a day between our birthdays, so we are pretty much the same age," Jagielka added. "It just works, the communication, the way we play. Obviously left-foot, right-foot also helps as well. It's just one of those things when you get to play with someone and it clicks. You think in a similar way.
"I find the element of partnership really important. If you're telling the person something and he's listening, you're both on the same page. If sometimes you're saying something and either they're not hearing it or they've decided to do something else it puts you on the back foot. It was something that just came about with me and Joleon.
"I don't know whether we play the game a similar way or not, it just seems to work and we've done OK when we've played together for England.
"I need him to tell me and to help me out just as much as I need to tell him what he has got around him to help him out. That's the main thing. If you have got someone telling you 'left shoulder, right shoulder, stay up, drop', it keeps you on your toes and vice-versa."
Jagielka said he is prepared for the transition that comes from facing the joint worst-ranked side in the world to an away trip against dangerous opponents.
Lewandowski has spoken of a desire to exploit England's defensive "problems" on Tuesday night. If he can be stopped and a 39-year undefeated record against Poland remains intact, it will be not only a key result for the team but a significant one for Jagielka.
PHIL Jagielka believes his old partnership at club level with Joleon Lescott gives them the edge in Roy Hodgson’s England side.
The 30-year-old is one of a number of centre-backs keen to nail down a place as John Terry’s successor, starting with tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier in Poland.
Gary Cahill is part of a Chelsea side topping the Premier League and Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross has just broken into the squad.
But Jagielka reckons it makes sense for him and Lescott to resume the partnership they forged at Everton.
He said: “There’s a day between our birthdays, so we are pretty much the same age and it just works – the communication, the way we play and left-foot, right-foot helps as well.
“Obviously Joleon had a fantastic move to Manchester City so I’ve not played with him as much but it’s just one of those things. You get to play with someone and it clicks.”
Everton are enjoying their best start to the season in years and that also means Leighton Baines’ stock is high.
The left-back got the nod for Friday’s 5-0 victory over San Marino and Jagielka reckons Ashley Cole will have to battle to get back in.
He said: “Ashley’s performed at that level for so long and put himself up there as one of the world’s best left-backs, but if you watch Bainesy enough, he’s been by far our best player all season.
“It is a test to see if he can stay at those levels and possibly keep Ash out.”
Had fate taken him down a different path Jagielka could have been playing against England in Warsaw tomorrow.
Jagielka’s grandparents come from Poland but the family were based in England long before he was born.
He said: “It would have been an option but I was born in England, raised in England and I see myself as English.
“I don’t really speak Polish, apart from hello and goodbye to my gran."
Victory against the Euro 2012 co-hosts would allow Roy Hodgson and Co to take a tight grip on the Group H summit.
Jagielka said: “It would be nice to have a bit of a cushion and sit on top of the group for a while. But if we come away with a point it’s not the end of the world.
“We’ll still be in a very healthy position with the games we’ve got coming up.
“If it was the last two games of the qualifying section and we were desperate maybe it would be a different story. There is a long way to go.”
If he keeps his place then Jagielka’s task will be to stop Robert Lewandowski, the Borussia Dortmund striker.
He said: “We’ll have a video later which is always interesting to see – a striker’s best bits.
“But it’s my job as a defender to come up against all different types. It’s just something you have to deal with.”
But even if Lewandowski has an off- day, Jagielka knows he’ll be in for a tougher time than against San Marino.
He said: “We know it’s going to be a totally different game. We will be prepared. It would be stupid of us to think that these two games are going to be the same.
“We will watch videos and be prepared. It’s not like you play 10 games like San Marino then one against Poland. It’s the other way round. You’re used to these games."
Both Terry and Ferdinand are now in the international wilderness after dominating England’s defence over the past decade and there is the very clear sense that a new dawn will really begin at centre-back in tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Poland.
Jagielka is likely to be the immediate beneficiary of Terry’s international retirement and, ahead of resuming his old Everton partnership with Joleon Lescott in Warsaw, he revealed his mixed emotions at the shock news that Terry would never again play for England.
“John and Rio played together for England forever didn’t they?” said Jagielka.
“They had a great partnership. In the last 10 or 11 months, many things have changed. With John deciding to call it a day, it opens the door even more. It is not too cut out who is first name down and that only makes it healthy. No one is guaranteed a place any more.
“I wouldn’t say I resigned myself to not starting but that’s the role you get put into when there are people in front of you who aren’t particularly giving you the opportunity to get a game. If the manager did decide to rest a couple of players in the previous years, when the international qualifiers came around again, you would expect John Terry and Rio Ferdinand to be playing again.”
Asked if the enhanced opportunity personally had caused mixed feelings about Terry’s exit from the international stage, Jagielka said: “Yes, definitely. If John was here I would say exactly the same thing. I’m gutted as an England fan. He has been a fantastic player for England, he’s put his body on the line for many years now.
“But he had his reasons. It was his decision — he wasn’t forced as in like a gun to his head or anything. If you look at it from a purely personal point of view, it was one less person to compete with playing for England.
“As much as I was gutted he wasn’t going to play for England again, it was also an opportunity for me to try to go higher up the pecking order. I’ve been around the squad for the last couple of years or so, played a game here and there, and I’d like to play on a more consistent basis.”
Terry and Ferdinand have amassed 159 England games between them but, in Lescott and Jagielka, Roy Hodgson is now almost certain to turn to a pairing with a combined 39 caps. Chelsea’s Gary Cahill is also pushing for a starting place but a major advantage for Lescott and Jagielka is their past history playing together for Everton.
“It just works, the communication, the way we play,” said Jagielka. “Obviously left-foot, right-foot also helps. It clicks. You think in a similar way. It helps especially being centre-halves. It’s all about partnerships. If you are telling a person something and he’s listening, you are both on the same page.”
Ashley Cole is another member of England’s old guard whose place in under increasing threat and, although the Chelsea left back is expected to return to the team to face Poland tomorrow, Jagielka believes that Leighton Baines is now Cole’s equal. Baines has started all four of England’s games since Euro 2012.
“I don’t see there’s any difference really,” said Jagielka. “Ashley has performed at that level for a long time now and put himself up there as one of the world’s top left-backs but, if you watch Bainesy enough, he’s been by far our best player all season at Everton. A lot of the strikers take the plaudits but it’s hard for a fullback to create as many chances as he has. He’s more like a winger or a No 10. He’s been amazing.
“It is a test to see if he can stay at those levels, to keep performing as well as he has done and possibly keep Ash out of the team. It will be a nice headache for the manager. I think I’d be tossing a coin, heads or tails.”
Tomorrow’s match has an added personal significance for Jagielka as his grandparents are Polish, although he says that there was never any temptation to play for Poland. “It would have been an option but I was born in England, raised in England and I see myself as English, he said.
Poland’s main threat is likely to be Robert Lewandowski and Jagielka admitted that it could be intimidating to watch the edited highlights of his best recent matches, including Borussia Dortmund’s 1-1 Champions League draw with Manchester City. “We know what ability they’ve got and the threats they carry – this game can set the agenda in the group,” he said.
LEIGHTON BAINES deserves to be given the chance to prove himself as England left-back, according to Everton FC team-mate Sylvain Distin.
Baines played in England’s 5-0 defeat of San Marino on Friday night in his fourth consecutive start for the national side.
But with regular first choice Ashley Cole now back in the squad, Baines’ position is under threat ahead of tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifier in Poland but Distin believes his fellow Blue should be able to keep his place.
And Distin says Baines is deserving of a position in the team, not because of Cole’s discrepancies off the field, but because he consistently proves himself to be a top class defender.
“No matter what happened on or off the pitch I believe Bainesy deserves his chance,” said Distin.
“I’ve been here for four years and I’ve been impressed by him for four years.
“I can remember last season when it was time to vote for player of the year and I think some of us were saying I’m not going to vote for Bainsey again because it’s the same all the time.
"He’s the first choice, obvious’.
“The guy can do everything; head the ball, score, take a free-kick, pass and his crosses are amazing. The ball leaves his foot for a cross and he’s already back in the back line defending.
“Every single game he’s the same. He’s training every day. He’s in the gym every day - plus he’s a great guy as well. I’m not saying this because he’s my team-mate – he deserves it.”
Distin says he would never judge Cole, who recently found himself in hot water with the Football Association over a strongly worded message on Twitter.
“Every single player is different,” he said.
“At the end of the day it’s what you do on the pitch. For me it’s important to remember that footballers didn’t ask to be role models.
"Most of the time they come from average if not bad backgrounds, and they’re ordinary people with a lot of passion. I guarantee you some time when you finish a game if you don’t try and calm down before people come and ask you a question, you’re going to give the wrong answer.
"I’m not going to judge Ashley. Sometimes what the papers say is very different from what you say.”
LEIGHTON BAINES has set his sights on holding onto the England left-back role but the Everton FC left-back still expects Ashley Cole to reach the 100-cap mark.
Baines turned in another impressive performance during Friday night’s 5-0 win over minnows San Marino in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
The Everton player has started all four internationals since the Euro 2012 finals as Cole nurses an ankle problem, and now looks a genuine contender for the number three shirt.
It has given Baines a hunger to make further appearances for his country but he anticipates Cole becoming the sixth England player to win 100 caps sooner rather than later.
He also admits playing regular European football would also help his cause with England.
Baines said: “Ashley is a terrific player but, in the games I’ve played, I’ve shown I can come in and do a job as well.
“It would be nice to hold onto the shirt if I can. You want to play so, the more games you play, the happier you are.
“I’ve started the last few games so I’m very happy with that.
“Do I want more of this? Of course. It’s natural. Everyone wants to play so getting the games recently has been nice.”
Baines admitted: “It has been a long wait for me but Ashley has deserved every one of his 98 caps and hopefully he will reach the 100 mark because he deserves it.
“I don’t think I will be denying him that. It will happen. Ashley is a top player and I’m sure he will get to the milestone.
“I’ve no idea if I can challenge him. All I can do is play as well as I can for Everton and that’s all I’m really focused on.
“Over the course of a season your form level will ebb and flow a bit. It’s already done that. I’ve had a couple of games where I’ve not played as well as in others.”
Baines has been in fine form for Everton as they have made an impressive start to the campaign, having been notorious slow starters in recent years.
But he claimed: “I don’t know if I’m in the best form of my career. My form at the moment doesn’t feel too different to what it has been over the last couple of years.
“I’ve been enjoying playing, we’ve been doing well back at the club, picked up some good results and it’s been fun.”
When asked if regular European football would bolster his own claims, Baines said: “Maybe. Probably it is better asking the manager if he feels that is a factor in his decision-making.
“But I suppose if you were playing in those competitions, it would weigh in your favour.”
Baines concedes it represents a different challenge when facing a side ranked as low as San Marino – joint 207th in the FIFA rankings.
There have been some calls for such minnows to play a qualifying round before entering the group stages.
Baines said: “It is difficult. It is difficult for the people who govern those situations to change the rules of the competition.
“It was a pretty one-sided affair and that has been the case for many of San Marino’s games.
“It is something you are not accustomed to, particularly at this level.
“Without being disrespectful, they are not quite up to the standard of the majority of the sides at this level.
“It is a different entity when you play a side like that but it is just about getting the job done and getting the game won and we did that. It was a good performance. In the games we’ve seen them play recently, sides have struggled to score in the opening 25 minutes so we were sort of prepared for that.
“They packed a lot of men behind the ball, we had to stay patient but, once we got the first goal, it was pretty comfortable.”
Baines knows tomorrow’s game in Poland will represent a sterner test and will be a special occasion for Everton team-mate Phil Jagielka, with his Polish connections.
He said: “It will be completely different. We know they are a much better side, a really good team with some good players. It will be a hostile atmosphere and a big challenge for young lads. It is a passionate place for football.
“We haven’t given Phil any stick yet about being half-Polish but I’m sure it will be a big occasion for him and his family. His grandparents is where the Polish heritage comes from.”
PHIL JAGIELKA believes England boss Roy Hodgson faces a tough decision over whether to stick with Jagielka’s Everton FC team-mate Leighton Baines or bring back Ashley Cole at left-back for tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier in Poland.
Jagielka has hailed Baines as the in-form player in the Premier League this season and he again impressed during Friday’s 5-0 win over minnows San Marino at Wembley.
Cole was rested for that match because of his ongoing ankle problem and he is only two caps away from reaching 100 senior appearances for his country.
But Baines has started the last four internationals and has not looked out of place on the international stage.
Jagielka said: “It is going to be a really tough decision for the manager. Getting to watch Bainesy from a closer view than most, he has had a fantastic start to the season at club level and international level.
“It is not a bad headache for the manager to have. You’ve got Cole on 98 caps, a fantastic left-back, and then you’ve got the in-form player in the Premier League in Leighton Baines.
“As far as the manager goes he is going to have a bit of a headache but it will be a nice headache.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to make that decision. I think I’d be tossing a coin, heads or tails. But I’m sure the manager will make the right decision.”
Jagielka is now pressing hard for his own regular spot in the side at centre-back after the retirement of John Terry and the non selection of Rio Ferdinand.
He has started three of the four internationals since Euro 2012 and is in competition with former Everton team-mate Joleon Lescott and Gary Cahill.
But Jagielka does expect Lescott, one of England’s best performers during the summer in Poland and Ukraine, to return to the side in Warsaw.
Jagielka said: “In the last 10 to 11 months, many things have changed and, with John (Terry) deciding to call it a day now, it opens the door even more so now for myself, Joleon and Gary.
“We are all competing for those two places. It is not too cut and dried in terms of who is the first name down on the team sheet.
“That only makes it healthy. No one is guaranteed a place any more.
“The manager decided to freshen things up against San Marino and rest a couple of players. Joleon is one of those players who looks like he will come in on Tuesday.
“He fully deserves it. He had a fantastic Euros and has carried on from there in the England shirt and I expect him to play on Tuesday.”
Jagielka has Polish roots via the origin of his grandparents but his focus is on England securing a third win in the qualifiers to cement their place at the top of the group.
He said: “I had a lot of press and questions on it in the summer because we were going to be based in Poland.
“I’ve answered the questions before, I’ve got Polish roots but I was born and bred in England.
“I don’t speak that much Polish. It’s a game for England and I’ll be dying to get the right result for my country.
“It means a bit more with the heritage and stuff but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all about getting another cap and another win.
“We can talk afterwards about where the family is from.”
Jagielka knows the importance of England not slipping up after a previous 5-0 win in the group – against Moldova – was followed by a home draw against Ukraine.
He said: “You look at the Ukraine game and the worst thing we could have done was to concede first and as early as we did. We chased the game for most of it.
“We still created chances and Jermain Defoe had a perfectly good goal disallowed.
“But we will learn from a mistake or the experience of winning 5-0 in Moldova and then drawing against Ukraine. We will learn from that.
“We will be doing our best to make sure we get a better result after Friday’s 5-0 win.
“It won’t be a bad’s night work if we come away with a draw.
“We’d still look healthy as far as qualification for Brazil is concerned.
“We will be going to win the game but if it is 0-0 or 1-1 after 90 minutes, we will take that.”