Twelve years ago Everton signed Phil Jagielka, or as commentators would go on to say “Phil Yagielka” for a mere sum of four million pounds from Sheffield United. Yes four million! Starting off in all different positions under David Moyes, he didn’t quite find his feet at first. I remember seeing him play in central midfield once and he fitted in like a massive suit on David Price. However, Phil soon slotted in at centre-back and the rest is history. He would go on to be one of Everton’s best Premiership defenders alongside the likes of Dave Watson, ending up with the tiny sum of four million pounds being one of Moyes’ famous ever bargain signings.
So after a somewhat shaky start for Phil, it was really the 08/09 season where he announced himself as the colossus at the back. Despite him being an excellent player for us for another ten years, it was really here where I seen him at his best. I’m talking probably the best centre half for Everton I’ve seen with my own two eyeballs (I’m only thirty) during this period. He was absolutely immense for us and nothing could get past him. He was that good. This was the year we got to the FA cup final and it was all down to Jags slotting that ever so important winning penalty against United to send me and every Evertonian at Wembley into raptures. Ben Foster didn’t move until the net burst as it soared past him at one-hundred miles an hour. What a moment! As luck has it though, Jagielka picked up a devastating injury and missed the final I was so sure we would win, and do you know what? Maybe we would have if he was there. He was a key player for us that season and it was such a shame for him and for us. At least he ended up with our Player of the season award that year, something which was so truly deserved.
Unfortunately for Jags, that injury kept him out for some time. He missed almost a year of football and it seemed to take a little more time for him to adjust which was understandable for any player. Things started to look up again though after a while and he was appointed captain in 2013. He had been linked with Arsenal on numerous occasions but decided to stay at Goodison and was starting to bleed blue blood. It was an unreal season for him and once again he picked up the Player of the Season award. To come back like that after so long out was nothing short of ‘Phenomenal’ as our then manager Roberto Martinez would say.
Jags would also go on to play for England. In an era of great English defenders, he still managed to squeeze in becoming Everton’s most capped English player racking up forty appearances for the national side.
If you ask any Evertonian what their fondest memory of Phil Jagielka was, it would probably be in 2014 against them lot across the park. A ninetieth minute screamer at the kop end salvaged a point for us and in my opinion, without my blue tinted glasses on, Jags scored the greatest derby goal I have ever seen. You couldn’t even picture in your head a defender doing that. If the ball that smashed past Foster was at one-hundred miles an hour, this was two hundred. It bounced off the bar and nearly broke the net to silence Anfield in a goal Tony Yeboah would have been proud of. Of course he won goal of the season for it and rightly so.
After a few turbulent years for Everton with the Martinez era finishing and Ronald Koeman’s reign coming to a quick end, Jags started the first game of Silva’s reign against Wolves at the Molineux. He was wrongly sent off thirty minutes in and found it tough to get back into the first team afterwards as Kurt Zouma decided to cement his place alongside Michael Keane. We hardly seen him again with Mina preferred when a centre-back needed called upon. After a topsy-turvy season, Michael Keane got injured in the warm up against Arsenal at home and I feared the worst. He was playing so well and Everton had picked up some form playing our best football under Silva yet. However Jags stepped in and played like he had been there all season. He scored the winner and was man of the match in a solid display showing the Goodison faithful that he still has it. However this is where Phil’s story came to an end for Everton and he has recently decided not to extend his contract by another year.
I’ve got to be honest, when I heard the news it pulled on the old heart strings a bit. One of the few players left that has been at the club for such a long time was leaving. Jagielka with all due respect, could have been a great back up next season. Hey, he’s thirty-five, age catches up with every player that’s life, but I also think he can do an excellent job for another team and by the sound of it, so does he. Many have stated a return to Sheffield United could be on the cards and why not? However I think the MLS would be a great move for him to experience a different league before his career ends.
So one of Everton’s great defenders is going and I can only wish him all the best. Three-hundred and eighty-five appearances, nineteen goals and six years as captain says it all. He is a template for Michael Keane, Yerry Mina and any other future defenders who join this club. A role model of the highest order. Although his boots might not be laced anytime soon, because there’s only one Jagielka, one Jagielkaaa. There’s only one Jagielka!