Club Focus – Everton – Baines and Jagielka swap Blue for England colours

Everton’s interest in England’s European Championship qualifying match with Wales rests on the shoulders of two defenders, left-back Leighton Baines and centre-back Phil Jagielka; two of the Toffees’ standout performers this season and both eager to cement their respective place in Fabio Capello’s first-choice XI.

Baines faces more of an uphill task than Jagielka, with the latter handed a path to the starting line-up by Rio Ferdinand’s continual injury woes. John Terry, firmly ensconced in the Italian Coach’s thoughts and restored as captain, has the first centre-back slot wrapped up but the role of the Chelsea player’s partner is up for grabs. With Jagielka one of the England players this week put in front of a microphone to hold a press conference for the media, it would appear he has won the race with former Everton defender Joleon Lescott, Bolton Wanderers’ Gary Cahill and Tottenham Hotspur defender Michael Dawson, as pushing the player to such prominence only to leave him on the substitutes bench would appear an odd move to say the least.

Jagielka is marginally more experienced than both Cahill and Dawson at international level – seven caps to Cahill’s two and Dawson’s three – but trails the 12-time international Lescott. The current Everton defender does have the advantage over Lescott of the unquestioned faith of his club manager, with each transfer window seeing Manchester City linked to a raft of players that could replace Lescott, a signing of Roberto Mancini’s predecessor Mark Hughes. Lescott has improved of late for City compared to his early appearances after swapping Everton’s dark blue for City’s lighter shade, but is still some distance from the calibre of performance that brought him to Hughes’ attention in the first place. Lescott, after looking imperious at Goodison Park, has been surpassed internationally and domestically by Jagielka since his switch to Eastlands.

Baines, however, is in direct competition with Ashley Cole for the only left-back spot and, despite a phenomenal season for Everton, looks no closer to unseating the Chelsea defender in the No 3 shirt. Cole does have one weapon in his armoury that no amount of excellent Baines performances can really combat – longevity. After being arguably the world’s best left-back for the last five years or more, Cole has a proven track record at international level. Baines is new on the world scene and fighting an incumbent with Cole’s history of strong performances for England may ultimately be futile. Barring an injury or dramatic loss of form, at 30 – four years older than Baines – Cole will be England’s left-back for a long time to come.

While on a personal level Baines will surely be disappointed by his inability to dislodge Cole, many Everton fans may not empathise. There is a feeling from some Everton fans that when an Everton player impresses for England, it is a matter of time before they leave. True or not, stretching back to the 1980s with Gary Lineker to the present day with Wayne Rooney and Joleon Lescott, there is a stream of then-Everton players receiving plaudits for England and soon spiriting off elsewhere, and, judging on this season, an Everton without Baines or Jagielka would be a much diminished Everton indeed.

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