Jagielka was tasked with handling his national team colleague Peter Crouch for much of the lunchtime kickoff and rose to the occasion manfully, sometimes with the aid of Phil Neville doubling up on the beanpole striker. More impressive was the amount of times Jagielka attacked the ball in the air, adeptly reading the arc of the cross and avoiding a tussle with Crouch that the former Liverpool forward was always likely to win. But the 26-year-old’s sterling performance should not have come as a surprise, for even during Everton’s early season struggles Jagielka was a rare beacon of quality amid a dark sea of dismal showings.
Moving to Goodison Park in July 2007, Jagielka began his career on Merseyside as a central midfielder, a position not totally alien to him from his Sheffield United days but still far from his best. It was a case of needs must, however, and Everton were short on midfielders. With Joseph Yobo and Joleon Lescott in possession of the two centre-backs spots, Jagielka was not in a position to complain. Jagielka entered some competent performances from the centre of midfield but his clear defensive tendencies guaranteed it would not be a permanent posting and indeed, when the £4m signing got his chance in the heart of defence, he grasped it with both hands.
There was two Player of the Year Awards the following season, one from the Everton fans and another from his fellow players, but they proved scant reward as a season-ending injury struck Jagielka just days after he netted the decisive penalty in Everton’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester United. No manner of injury could alter the fact Jagielka was firmly entrenched as Everton’s first choice centre-back, even more so after Lescott swapped Everton’s dark blue for Manchester City’s lighter variety in 2009. Returning to fitness in February 2010, Jagielka quickly re-established himself in Everton’s defence and formed a partnership with Sylvain Distin that continues to be a key part of Everton’s spine to this day, emphasised again against Spurs on Saturday.
Having gone from strength to strength since becoming an Everton player, Jagielka has also forced his way into Fabio Capello’s thoughts, arguably becoming England’s first-choice cover for both Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. He manages to combine qualities from both Terry and Ferdinand – Terry’s aggressive dominance with Ferdinand’s composure – while growing into the vacancy Alan Stubbs left as Everton’s defensive leader when he finally departed. As Jagielka has progressed, so have Everton, but this season the No 6 has kept the Toffees’ heads above water, the only one of an experienced group who, earlier in the campaign, could honestly have said he was playing to an acceptable level. Now those dark days are behind the Blues they can look to a brighter future, with Jagielka again standing out.