Ten years ago today, Leighton Baines signed for Everton Football Club. With Phil Jagielka also registering a decade of service for the Blues last month, Paul McNamara looks back on the fine service so far of two stellar servants.
The narrative surrounding Everton this summer has primarily been one of transformation. An influx of players to Goodison Park has generated masses of chatter and provided material to fill countless sports pages.
Manager Ronald Koeman, by popular consent, has bought wisely – investing in the spine of his team with a mind to propelling the Blues into Champions League contenders.
All the while, Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka have nestled into the background, escaping the flashlights and headlines.
Just how they like it, then.
The defensive duo arrived at Everton within 34 days of each other 10 years ago. It was a different time – and these two players are products of a more sober era.
You sense Baines and Jagielka would gladly strip back their jobs to training and playing football on a Saturday afternoon, thus eliminating all the hullaballoo that surrounds the modern game.
If they didn’t both possess the talent, fortitude and desire to have spent the past decade as Goodison Park mainstays they might get away with such a ruse.
This, though, is a pair of Evertonians whose combined 70 England caps would give them a serious leg up in any game of football top trumps.
Two players whose presence on the pitch is enough to inject team-mates and fans alike with a shot of inspiration. To watch Baines and Jagielka playing for the Blues is to see the drive and ambition Everton supporters expect from their men in the royal blue jersey.
The twosome are precious constants during this time of invigorating change at Goodison. Crucially, in the harum-scarum environment of Premier League football, these two thirtysomethings consistently radiate a reassuring calm, both going about their work in an understated, unfussy manner.
The loquacious Barry Fry once remarked that his rugged Birmingham centre-half Liam Daish would have headed a jumbo jet if it threatened to gatecrash the Midlands side’s penalty area.
Jagielka is cut from similar cloth. He habitually puts his body on the line to protect Everton’s goal, without a second thought. The 34-year-old is one Premier League shut out away from recording his 100th clean sheet in the competition.
In common with Baines, though, any discussion about Jagielka’s Everton career will, before long, inevitably switch to his deeds at the other end of the pitch.
Talking to evertontv after extending his Goodison contract until 2019 last week, Jagielka said he hoped to “create special memories” in the next two years.
Jagielka is determined to win a trophy before his time with the Blues is up. Nevertheless, he would have been perfectly entitled to insert the word ‘more’, when outlining his aim to create special memories.
This is the man, after all, who lived out every Evertonians’ playground dream. Jagielka stunned Anfield when he rifled a spectacular stoppage-time equaliser past Simon Mignolet in 2014.
His sweet, first-time effort, clocked at 58mph, was deposited in the Kop End goal, nearly removed the net from its hinges and prompted then boss Roberto Martinez to claim, “I have never seen a better strike live”.
A hit and hope, once-in-a-lifetime goal? Not a bit of it. Jagielka had form for smashing home in such dramatic fashion even before he became a Blue.
Just ask those Sheffield United fans whose neck hairs jump to attention whenever they recall their former player’s outrageous 35-yard injury-time leveller in a cup clash with Leeds 15 years ago. His last-gasp winner against Middlesbrough in 2006, another searing long-range blast, is fondly remembered at Bramall Lane, too.
For an insight into Jagielka’s character, cast your mind back to Wembley in 2009. Everton were one successful penalty away from beating Manchester United in an FA Cup semi-final shootout.
Thirteen months previously, Jagielka had stepped up against Fiorentina in a UEFA Cup tie. His kick was saved and the Italians went through.
But here he was again, putting his neck on the block. A quick glance at Ben Foster was followed by the coolest of finishes – low to the United keeper’s left – and the most joyous, cathartic of celebrations.
Earlier in the shootout, Baines had almost dismissively rolled his own penalty beyond Foster. His assured finish, in fact, bore all the hallmarks of a Premier League goalscorer.
Fitting, really, because Baines has hit the net 30 times in the competition. He does alright in the cups, too. Baines’s free-kick, clinically dispatched with the clock ticking down and Everton trailing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in an FA Cup tie in 2011, will forever remain etched in the memories of anybody lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Beyond his superior dead-ball ability and underrated defensive savvy, though, mention of Baines stirs a specific image in the minds of many Evertonians.
It is of the left-back seamlessly interchanging with Steven Pienaar, the pair seemingly with the ball on a string and capable of locating space where none existed, as they ran amok against opponents perplexed by the blur of skill and movement occurring under their noses.
It is instructive to note that both Jagielka and Baines have been awarded new Everton contracts by the three managers – Moyes, Martinez and Koeman – under whom they have played at Goodison.
So far as testimony to their value to the Club goes, it doesn’t get any stronger.
When Jagielka scored against Burnley last season he gleefully turned a cartwheel.
Ill-advised, maybe. Apt, certainly. Evertonians must be head over heels about their two true Blues: Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines.