Friday, February 13, 2009

Is Jagielka Promise Burning

Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. Just two years after first gracing the Premier League, Phil Jagielka last night made a well-earned England debut. Not in a gentle run-out against a group of plumbers from the wrong side of the Caucasus, but facing possibly the world's two best strikers at the same time.
Jagielka will have had better evenings. Fernando Torres and David Villa's electric movement, deft touch and blistering pace ensured a baptism of fire for the Everton man in the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. He was withdrawn after just 45 minutes, around seven after his stray pass found Xabi Alonso, who slipped in Villa to twist Jagielka and John Terry and open the scoring.
Those who doubt Jagielka's credentials will be comfortable they were proved right. Those who would rather have seen Matthew Upson fill the breach left by Rio Ferdinand. Those who regard the 26-year-old as a one-time Championship standard clogger who should be left in a lay-by on the road to the World Cup.
At one of Fabio Capello's open training sessions last summer, where the media are invited to cast an eye over the two dozen or so who represent England's best and brightest as they go through a variety of simple exercises, Jagielka caused quite a stir. Not because of his performance, but because nobody among the assembled throng seemed quite sure who he was or why he was there.
The ignorance is easily explained. For five years, Jagielka was famous for one thing only - he was quite a decent stand-in goalkeeper when required. Neil Warnock, his manager at Sheffield United, often failed to name a specialist on the bench, knowing the man born a Blade could fill the breach. But when Bramall Lane became a Premier League venue, Jagielka blossomed.
His energy, drive and uncompromising attitude to defending caught the eye as Warnock's side narrowly failed to avoid relegation. David Moyes brought him to Everton for £4 million, and after a slightly shaky start, he is now surely one of the league's best defenders.
Nobody has been more important to Everton's resurgence than Jagielka. His partnership with Joleon Lescott has helped the club on a run of just one loss in 12, a sequence that has included eight clean sheets. His first England appearance was thoroughly deserved.
There is a step up, though, from top Premier League player to international standard centre back. Jagielka barely gave Torres a sniff of goal in three Merseyside derbies, but it is quite a different matter when there is a player of Villa's quality to think about as well. But if Jagielka's transition from stand-in keeper to Premier League rock is anything to go by, he can only get better. He deserves the chance to do that on the international stage too.

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