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01:00 Tue 04 Jun 2019

Jagielka Can Forever Walk Tall At Goodison

David Unsworth’s appointment as an Everton Giant last month shed a spotlight on the former defender’s mountain of achievements at Goodison Park.

There was one omission when Unsworth’s myriad contributions to Everton were listed, though, a deed which remained in the dark, as recognition flowed for the deserving 45-year-old.

It was a natural oversight, given Unsworth played for Wigan Athletic when he did his bit to launch one of the most admirable and enduring Everton careers.

Phil Jagielka was in the Sheffield United team which needed to avoid defeat against Wigan on the final day of 2006-07 to remain in the Premier League.

Wigan, for their part, knew it was win or bust at Bramall Lane. The game was locked at 1-1 when Unsworth had the chance to tip matters in Wigan’s favour from the penalty spot.

He scored – of course he did – and down went Sheffield United, their hopes of retaining Jagielka up in smoke.

Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny even admitted in public the game was up so far as trying to keep hold of his team’s dynamic defender-cum-midfielder went.

“I think it's time for him to leave," said Kenny. "He deserves his chance, he's a Premier League quality player.”

Neil Warnock, an inveterate Blade, would likely have stayed as boss for another Premier League season.

And, no question, trying to wrest Jagielka from Warnock’s grasp would have been a torrid exercise. “The gaffer’s son”, Jagielka was affectionately christened at Bramall Lane.

Warnock would feed the joke. interrupting rain-sodden training sessions to bark instructions while hoisting an umbrella above his own head and that of his young star.

The manager was deadly serious, however, when he used to tell the teenage Jagielka he’d play for England.

That Warnock was correct 40 times over goes only a small part of the way to explaining why Everton got significant bang for their buck from the £4million it cost to extract Jagielka from Bramall Lane on 4 July 2007.

When Marco Silva reflected on Phil Jagielka’s stellar display against Arsenal in April, he could just as easily have been constructing an epitaph for the centre-back’s Everton career.

“Jags was prepared to give everything his coach and teammates needed from him,” said Everton manager Silva.

That has been the way of it since Jagielka bounded on to the field for the final 10 minutes of a match at Tottenham Hotspur’s old White Hart Lane in August 2007.

Everton led 3-1 and David Moyes decided it was time to lower the shutters. Off came striker Victor Anichebe, replaced by Jagielka for the first of his 385 Everton appearances.

His introduction that evening in north London would have piqued interest among the travelling Evertonians but no more.

Everton played with a swagger and completed their second successive victory on the ground, 12 months after manager Moyes’s team ended the Club’s 21-year wait for a win at Spurs.

The debut of their new boy from Sheffield United, then, with his generous mop of shining blond hair and energetic stride, represented a satisfying footnote on an altogether more jubilant evening.

Jagielka’s most recent appearance from the bench – the last of those 385 outings – came on another rousing night for his team.

Everton held a 2-0 advantage over Burnley last month and, with the match moving into stoppage time, were poised to complete a fourth successive home victory.

jagsburnley

The noise which had greeted Everton’s two goals, though, was surpassed when 40,000 pairs of eyes clapped on Jagielka striding to the touchline, ready for action.

After listening to his name echo around Goodison for the entirety of his time on the field, Jagielka was characteristically low-key.

“I’ve been here a long time and it was nice to come on and feel appreciated,” he said.

That gratitude runs deep, perhaps deeper than Jagielka appreciates.

Reach beneath the crackerjack moments  it’s an odd quirk that this over-my-dead-body defender’s name will forever evoke memories of Jagielka stunning Anfield with a 58mph piledriver and his penalty which booked Everton’s place in the 2009 FA Cup final – and his contributions are legion.

Jagielka came back from more than 10 months injured to play the final 11 matches of 2010-11. Everton won six and drew five of them – recording five clean sheets in that time.

If Jagielka’s superlative return was born of frustration, then that would have been understandable.

His time out coincided with the Cup final he had invested so much to reach.

Six days after hitting the decisive semi-final shootout penalty beyond Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster, Jagielka damaged his cruciate ligaments playing against Manchester City.

His involvement in the showpiece match against Chelsea was restricted to that of supporter, perched on a seat behind Everton’s staff and substitutes.

“It was hot and sweaty and, to be honest, for the whole day I felt numb,” Jagielka told evertonfc.com this year.

“It was a weird day, one of my worst days in football, because of how good it could have been.

“There is no point going on about it – but it would have been nice to have played.”

Jagielka is not keen on “going on about” that goal against Liverpool, either. In September 2014, with Everton trailing their Merseyside rivals 1-0 and the clock past 90 minutes, Jagielka propelled a 30-yard Exocet into the Kop End goal.

jagsderby

He goes back a further four years for his standout derby memory, though, recalling how goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta, spectacularly, inspired Everton’s 2-0 Goodison victory in October 2010.

Equally, an FA Cup fourth-round replay win over Liverpool the previous year, secured courtesy of Dan Gosling’s extra-time strike, elicits a smile.

“I remember Mikel’s volley at home as much as my goal,” said Jagielka.

“As much as I enjoyed mine – and I will remember it for ever – we go out there to try to win games.

“Dan Gosling’s deflected shot… wasn’t the sexiest goal in the world, but it won our goal of the season.”

Jagielka’s effort against Arsenal in April won’t be vying for any prizes doled out for good looks.

A popularity contest would be a different matter entirely.

Everton 1 Arsenal 0, Jagielka the goalscorer after 10 minutes, is tucked safely in the annals, the player’s valedictory 90 minutes at Goodison Park.

Summoned at the eleventh hour after Michael Keane was taken ill, Jagielka promptly served up a central-defensive masterclass.

Pitched into direct opposition with greased lightning, 13-goal striker Alexandre Lacazette, Jagielka’s handling of a player nine years his junior and whose £46.5million cost is broadly viewed as very good value, represented a triumph for experience and knowhow over the more modern commodities of raw speed and power.

There was nothing flashy about Jagielka’s work. He had no need for recourse to made-for-highlights last-ditch tackles or skittish clearances.

Jagielka knew where to position himself at every given moment, denying Lacazette any opportunity to show his opponent the number on his back.

Arsenal introduced circa-£60million thoroughbred Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the second half. The striker shared this season’s Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals. At no juncture did he escape Jagielka – or partner Kurt Zouma – for a chance to pinch the one which would have won him the scorers’ prize outright.

Everton’s clean sheet on that April Sunday was one of 107 Jagielka has helped record in his 360 Premier League appearances.

Jagielka’s goal against Arsenal? It was a scruffy affair, bundled in from a few yards following a penalty-box scrum, as far removed from his Anfield howitzer as could be imagined. But beautiful in its own right.

jagsarsenal

For starters, it had been a while in the making. This was Jagielka’s first Goodison goal since he celebrated a strike against Burnley in April 2017 by turning a cartwheel.

He was outwardly unmoved on this occasion but no less expressive for it.

As he stood, arms outstretched, fixing the Sir Philip Carter Park End in his gaze, there was a sense of Jagielka committing this one to memory.

An understated personality with a very nice line in dry humour, Jagielka isn’t naturally given to betraying his emotions.

He owns a quiet authority and was natural heir to Phil Neville when the former Everton captain departed in 2013.

Jagielka has a smart football brain – he was employed as a television pundit for last year’s World Cup for that reason – which he marries with statesmanlike leadership qualities.

It mattered to Jagielka that he was the medium for a pioneering initiative last year when the player was accompanied by a telepresence robot either side of a match against Newcastle United to allow ill teenager Jack McLinden to act as matchday mascot from his home.

“It is crazy – the impact we can have,” said Jagielka.

If a footballer’s power to transcend his sport might still catch the odd player by surprise, then Jagielka was in the picture when it came to captaining Everton.

“I knew there was a bigger responsibility,” he said. “But there is no point changing who you are.

“You are chosen as captain because you are a good role model, you can show and tell people the way.

“I am immensely proud of not only playing for such a great club but being Everton captain.”

Jagielka’s durability is a source of pride, too.

He topped 30 Premier League appearances in six of the eight seasons directly after he joined.

“I have always prided myself on being fit and available and trying to play as many games as possible,” says Jagielka.

“I’ve played nearly 700 matches in my career and I am immensely proud of that. My family are really proud, too.

“I always wanted to play football and I have been lucky enough to do that.”

For 12 years at Everton after Giant Unsworth unlocked the Goodison gates with his cool strike from the spot.

Phil Jagielka has earned the right to forever walk tall at Goodison Park, too.

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