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Phil Jagielka: 'It would have been nice to have a big finish at Everton'

James Ducker
Phil Jagielka returns to Goodison Park today hoping for the kind of reception he would have liked when leaving Everton in the summer - REUTERS

It was not the fond farewell to Everton that Phil Jagielka had in mind. “I just texted the kitman, Tony Sage, asking him to chuck my stuff in a bin bag and I met him at the front of the entrance at Finch Farm. I didn’t want to go in. It just didn’t feel right to,” the defender says.

It is probably overstating things to suggest 12 years were reduced to the contents of a bin bag. But, as Jagielka prepares to return to Goodison Park on Saturday for the first time since his summer departure from the club he served with distinction, there is a lingering sense of regret that he never got the chance to say a proper goodbye.

Jagielka is now back at Sheffield United, the club where a career spanning almost 700 club games and 40 England caps began, and he is likely to have a lump in his throat when the two great loves of his football life collide this afternoon.

“I would like to think [I’ll get a good reception],” he says. “If I don’t I will have to abuse them all!”

Jagielka’s future was still undecided by the time Everton had kicked their final ball of last season and, as the 37-year-old looks back now, he wishes his farewell had amounted to more than a late, token substitutes’ appearance in the last home game, against Burnley, at Goodison.

Jagielka says the negotiations when offered a return to Bramall Lane were not prolonged Credit: Rachel Holborn - BRFC/Getty Images

“It was strange,” he says. “I remember myself and Leighton [Baines] were on the bench for the last home game. Neither of us had committed to or signed anything, so we were not sure what was going on. The manager [Marco Silva] put me on for the last two minutes, so I had a little laugh with Bainesy and said, ‘That must be me done then!’

“Obviously I got a fantastic reception – and that was nice – but it would also have been nice to have known. It wasn’t ideal.

“It probably would have been easier if I or they had made a decision earlier. Maybe it could have been a bit more special. I am not angry or upset with anyone. There is no ill feeling. It would just have been nice to have a big finish.”

 The situation would have undoubtedly felt worse had Sheffield United not offered Jagielka the opportunity to extend his Premier League adventure into a 14th season. He had taken up an offer from Sean Dyche to do some training with Burnley, purely in order to keep himself fit, and there were whispers of interest from AC Milan before the call came from Chris Wilder. The prospect of a romantic return to Bramall Lane did not require much thought. 

“It wasn’t the longest negotiation,” Jagielka jokes.

Phil Jagielka scores his last Everton goal in the 1-0 victory over Arsenal last April Credit: PETER POWELL/EPA-EFE/REX

The strong British core in the Sheffield United dressing room evokes memories of Jagielka’s early days at Everton under David Moyes, a time he still looks back on most fondly. Everton’s struggles to break the stranglehold the top six have on the Premier League has been a perennial source of frustration for the club’s supporters, who yearn for a return to the glory days of the 1980s, and Jagielka is hoping Sheffield United can capitalise on any tension in the stands by starting strongly.

“I’ve watched games where passes have nearly gone astray and you’ve heard a groan – they’ve got to where they were supposed to get to, just not quickly enough or nearly got cut out,” Jagielka recalls. “The Everton fans are so desperate for the team to do well you can just sense it. People might think it comes across as a negative, but it’s not … they’re just so hungry for success.”

 Wilder may look and sound like he belongs firmly in the old-school fraternity of managers, but his use of overlapping centre-backs has been one of the more interesting tactical innovations, even if Jagielka is hoping his manager will take some mercy on him.

“He’s a Yorkshire guy who speaks his mind and doesn’t beat around the bush, but if he and Knilly [assistant Alan Knill] weren’t Yorkshire and spoke a different language or had sexier names, people would say how fantastic they are,” Jagielka says.

“If you look at his ideas, unfortunately for me, he likes to play overlapping centre-halves. Just normal centre-halves will do!

 “I think the manager knows if I end up playing on one of the sides [in a three-man defence], the expectation levels may drop slightly. There may only be one or two overlapping runs a half from me, rather than 10 or 12.”

Jagielka may never have got the swansong he wanted and warranted at Goodison – but a win there will doubtless help to soften the blow.