Phil Jagielka takes to it like a duck to water

One of the most pleasing aspects behind England’s recent back to back wins against Bulgaria and Switzerland were the performances of Phil Jagielka. The Everton centre half looked at ease throughout at the heart of defence, and while he may just be considered a stop gap until the likes of Ferdinand and Terry return, his displays show there is a little more strength in depth than previously anticipated.

Jagielka’s international career looked all but over after he suffered a cruciate ligament injury in 2009 just before Everton’s FA Cup final appearance. Jagielka had a great campaign in 2008/9, but to most, it looked like it was nothing more than good form as opposed to continued excellence. This injury looked to have not only ruled him out of the FA Cup final, but of Fabio Capello’s future plans.

A year is an extremely long time in football, but Jagielka has been fortunate that many of his rivals for a starting spot in the England side have fallen by the wayside either through injury, lack of form, or in Joleon Lescott’s case at least, ill-advised moves.

Against Bulgaria, Jagielka looked far more at ease with the occasion and the opposition than the nervy Michael Dawson and against Switzerland he marshalled the backline to decent effect. Dawson undoubtedly had a good back end to last season which resulted in him being called up to the World Cup squad in injured captain Rio Ferdinand’s stead, a deserved call up certainly, but so far this season the Spurs centre half has been poor to say the least.

Jagielka, in contrast, towards the end of last season upon his return was patchy, and although that is to be expected after such a long lay-off, it seemed he was the right player at the wrong time with concerns to a World Cup place. Still, he couldn’t have done any worse than Matt Upson could he?

He does however offer the England defence a rare and precious commodity that they haven’t had for some time, pace. Ferdinand used to have it in abundance but with numerous thigh and back related injuries; he is obviously on the wane in that department. Terry has the turning circle of a cruise ship liner, Matt Upson could never be considered sprightly and Ledley King, while he retains excellent acceleration over short distances, much like his other injured team mate Jonathan Woodgate, is extremely injury prone and his international career looks all but over sadly. Whereas Gary Cahill has to be considered one for the future rather than the now and Joleon Lescott can’t get a game at centre half for his club Man City.

The status quo will most probably be restored by the time England play Montenegro at home in October, with the likes of Terry and Lampard waltzing back into the starting line up, but In Jagielka’s case at least, seeing him depart from the eleven will be wholly unjustified as his performances have been calm, composed and really quite excellent.

I have never thought that Terry looks at ease at international level, which is strange, as in terms of quality at least, it most certainly ranks below the Champions League nowadays, but with England lacking a Michael Essien figure in front of him to terrorise the opposition midfield, with only a limp Gareth Barry performing the enforcer (I think I can hear laughs at the back) role, he is a lot more exposed and his sometimes fatal weakness becomes more evident and most importantly, more regularly.

His ascension has been somewhat fortuitous this time whereas last time it was undoubtedly deserved, on the back of some truly exemplary club form, most notably the complete and utter shackling of Fernando Torres in an FA Cup tie, but Jagielka looks to have taken his chance with both hands this time, and to be honest, he does deserve a little bit of luck after what he’s been through, even if his starting eleven place may not last for long and hopefully he’ll add to the 6 England caps in the future that he currently holds.

Written By James McManus