From missing a penalty against Fiorentina to scoring that penalty again Manchester United, then launching THAT goal against Liverpool. Phil Jagielka has become something of a polarising figure amongst Everton fans. Whilst he continues to divide opinion, the long-time servant of the club has played a vital role during some of Everton’s brightest performances and darkest days.
For me personally as a fan Phil Jagielka has provided me with two of my happiest memories as a 90’s kid growing up supporting Everton. The relief and jubilation of watching him secure our place in the 2009 FA Cup Final, before watching him launch that last-gasp equaliser past Mingolet in the last minute of the 2014 Merseyside Derby at Anfield. Phil Jagielka offered a figure of consistency during a mass overhaul at the club. Playing under 6 managers, of varying styles, in the last 7 years whilst playing alongside countless centre-back partners, Jags has seen it all in his 10+ years in royal blue.
As another mediocre and lacklustre season draws to a close, it very much looks as though Jags will become another great Everton player, to leave the club without a trophy. But with growing criticism surrounding the possibility of a new contract, the question remains to be answered, “why might Phil Jagielka not be remembered as fondly as some of the modern-day icons to have played alongside him?”
Initially when you talk about Jags you are immediately drawn to those who played around him during the David Moyes years. You think Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, the list goes on. However, we look back fondly on the memories of Cahill and Arteta. We have awarded Baines “legendary” status and while some fans grew tired of Tim Howard towards the end of his time in the Goodison goal, not many could argue that we have had a better keeper in recent times. So why has Jags appeared to become the scapegoat of the crop? Often to blame and a name that now fills many fans with dread when seen on the teamsheet, is Jags in danger of overstaying his welcome? Or will the current club captain be missed when his time at the Old Lady is up?
I personally believe that Jags deserves unmeasurable praise and respect for his service to the club. Loyalty is a diminishing trait in modern-day football and at his peak he would have been forgiven for having his head turned by so-called “bigger clubs”. Some will question the decision to be named and kept as club captain, others will raise the concerns that he has never been particularly vocal. But what Jagielka has been is loyal, adaptable and fully-invested in the ongoing project that is Everton Football Club. While Moshiri’s millions might lead many a neutral to question Everton losing their identity, Phil Jagielka has provided a level-head and a strong presence in the changing rooms. A role that is vital for preserving our identity as “The People’s Club” and crucial for the development of the young players around him.
So where does Phil’s future lie? Unlike many who have played alongside him, I cannot see a role within Everton’s coaching staff being forthcoming for Jags. Time is against him and even a money-based move to China or the US might now be beyond him. The romantics amongst us might like to see him return to Sheffield United next season, with or without promotion. One thing is for certain, it is easy to undervalue the contribution that Jags has made to the football club over the last 12 years and whilst a changing of the guard is on the horizon, I believe that Phil Jagielka, in his prime, will be a hard character to replace…