On Thursday, defender Phil Jagielka re-signed with Sheffield United on a one-year contract, following his release by Everton.
Premier League stalwart (see Premier League 2019/20 STALWART XI) Jagielka, 36, who cut short a seven-year association with United (his first professional club) on 4th July 2007, returned exactly twelve years on from the day he departed.
Having previously made 254 league appearances between 2000 and 2007, including ever-presence in United’s 2006/07 Premiership campaign, the (then) 24-year-old had mustered both rounded professional experience within the English game and an impressive reputation, by virtue of invariable participation in every Blades league fixture during his final three seasons there, as a highly accomplished, reliable and versatile defensive asset. A combination of attributes which attracted the interest of the day’s Everton boss David Moyes, whose sides had been known for their resilience, awkwardness to defeat and, above all, effectiveness in attaining strong sums of league points season-on-season.
Last Time Around
Over the years, a handful of clubs have graced the Premier League for just a season or two, yet have managed to make their mark and, subsequently, stick in the memory. For instance, Ian Holloway’s all-out-attacking Blackpool were unforgettable participants of the 2010/11 campaign, whilst Bradford City’s unlikely survival in 1999/2000 (though only to go down the next year) saw them memorably escape by beating Liverpool at Valley Parade in the season finale. Similarly, Sheffield United’s contribution to 2006/07 has sustained recollection; and Jagielka, coupled with manager Neil Warnock, was a leading character during the brief stint.
Indeed, he was at the forefront of each success (though limited of course by eventual relegation) enjoyed by the team. Regularly standing in for club captain Chris Morgan at times of absence, Jagielka put in star showings all across the park: kicking off the season in front of the back four, before dropping into a more natural centre-half birth shortly after; yet still occasionally resurfacing in the higher echelons of the pitch, notably to hit a corker on the half-volley to claim a late first victory of the season against Middlesbrough. Whilst he also converted 2/2 penalties (a skill he’d later utilise in blue to send Everton to the 2010 FA Cup Final) and even kept a goalkeeping clean sheet, having been forced to replace the injured Paddy Kenny between the sticks on the hour-mark against Arsenal. A game which they won 1-0, with Jagielka justifying Warnock’s decision not to name a goalkeeper on his five-man bench.
After moving on to Everton for a bargain £4m fee, following the disappointing outcome of his inaugural top-flight year, Jagielka went on to play 322 times for the Toffees in the Premier League; early on as a sitting midfielder or right-back, but soon as the second component of a robust centre-half unit alongside Joleon Lescott. Jagielka also represented his country 40 times, emerging as a particular favourite of Roy Hodgson’s in the middle of the England boss’ defence.
An international defender and stalwart of two big English football clubs, yet a tier below the elite players of his generation, he has been a perfect fit into club and international sides whose approach to matches, league campaigns and tournaments have not been bound by overwhelming expectancy of dominant success; managed often, too, by ‘old-fashioned’ British managers, who have commonly valued a firm base, natural leaders and unwavering commitment to historic shirts and ardent fans. All qualities which Jagielka has classically invoked. Though he, of course, must also be given credit for his proficiency on the ball, allowing him to make the aforementioned appearances in midfield, as well as remain a trustee within Roberto Martínez’ regime of possession-based football at Everton.
So as Jagielka strolls back down Bramall Lane (seemingly at will), there’s little to no uncertainty, both internally and externally, as to the nature and vast experience of the man that Sheffield United are reattaining; though sentiment, due to a definite (if expected) decline in his recent performances, has been murmured as a principal and, perhaps, irrational vehicle for the transfer. Though, for sure, he and United have unfinished business together, and if you’re looking for a dark horse for a potential game or atmospheric occasion of the season, then look no further than West Ham’s visit to Bramall Lane.
Indeed, the Blades’ relegation in May 2007 was certainly among the unluckiest in Premier League history, falling victim to some extremely poor refereeing decisions within games involving both themselves and fellow strugglers West Ham: Notably, a dubious penalty awarded to Liverpool by Rob Styles on the opening day, when Blades captain Chris Morgan mildly caught Steven Gerrard; and arguably one of the worst decisions ever seen in the league, as West Ham’s Bobby Zamora was accredited the winning goal at Blackburn, despite Carlos Tevez not only blocking the ball in front of the goal line, but also doing so in an explicitly offside position.
Speaking to Sky Sports immediately after relegation, having just been beaten by usurpers to 17th Wigan on the final day, Warnock alluded to both exemplified game changing calls, with direct reference to “Mr [Jim] Devine” (the linesman on the day at Blackburn’s Ewood Park) evoking both his aggravation towards the Liverpool penalty ruling and (though coincidently and by no means Warnock’s intention) the near divine intervention of the Hammers’ Argentine during the back end of that season, having arrived at West Ham alongside Javier Mascherano under ‘shady’ circumstances.
The Hammers, crucially, avoided a points deduction for their purchase of the pair, who had been the subjects of third-party ownership; contrary to Premier League rules. Indeed, it was Tevez’ goals, including the winner at Old Trafford on matchday 38, which are largely recognised to have kept his side up, sending the Yorkshire club the other way in the process. They had yet to return until promotion last season.
In light of these controversies, Jagielka and Blades supporters alike will be all the more determined to survive this time around, as well as get one (or two) over on the East Londoners to boot. West Ham visit Bramall Lane 11th January 2020, and with ‘one of their own’ returning to play for ‘one of their own’ [Chris Wilder], motivation within the dressing room is unlikely to be a problem.
Finally, aged 36, the one-year deal signed by Jagielka gives him the chance to join the eleven below in continuing, in spite of senior age and significant miles on the clock, to pull on Premier League jerseys:
Premier League 2019/20 STALWART XI
GK- Joe Hart, Burnley, 32:
Debut- October 2006 (Man City vs Sheff Utd)
RB- Phil Bardsley, Burnley, 34:
Debut- September 2005 (Man United vs Blackburn)
CB- Phil Jagielka, Sheff Utd, 36:
Debut- August 2006 (Sheff Utd vs Liverpool)
CB- Adrian Mariappa, Watford, 32:
Debut- August 2006 (Everton vs Watford
LB- Leighton Baines, Everton, 34:
Debut- August 2005 (Wigan vs Chelsea)
RM- Aaron Lennon, Burnley, 32:
Debut- August 2003 (Tottenham vs Leeds)
CM- James Milner, Liverpool, 33:
Debut- November 2002 (West Ham vs Leeds)
CM- Mark Noble, West Ham, 32:
Debut- August 2005 (West Ham vs Blackburn)
LM- Ashley Young, Man United, 33:
Debut- August 2006 (Everton vs Watford)
ST- Theo Walcott, Everton, 30:
Debut- August 2006 (Arsenal vs Aston Villa)
ST- Shane Long, Southampton, 32:
Debut- August 2006 (Aston Villa vs Reading)