He is a poster boy for England’s World Cup campaign, counts Arsene Wenger as an admirer and has developed into one of the country’s most accomplished centre-halves.
Phil Jagielka, the former Sheffield United protege, has come a long way since the days his cheeky persona masked a sliver of self-doubt.
“You could always tell Jags was destined for a long and successful career,” Ron Reid, the man who shaped his development at Bramall Lane, told The Star last night.
“How successful was impossible to tell but, even from an early age, there was something a little bit special about the lad.
“The thing was, back then at least, I don’t think he realised himself how good he could be.
“That was what we had to convince him because everyone else could see it the potential Phil had.”
Jagielka’s presence in the team beaten by Italy in Saturday’s Group D fixture, confirms the wisdom of United’s decision to offer the youngster a route back into football following a spell with Everton 15 years ago.
Nearly 300 appearances, nine goals and one promotion from the Championship later - after making his debut against Swindon Town in May 2000 - Jagielka commanded a £4m fee when he returned to Goodison Park in 2007 where he has been a regular starter under both David Moyes and Roberto Martinez.
Although that move to the North-West set in motion the chain of events which culminated in him winning the first of 27 senior international caps, Jagielka’s time at United equipped him with the tools required to perform on the game’s greatest stage.
Not to mention being where the position switch responsible for unlocking his talents took place - despite, as Reid remembers, initially being opposed by the player himself.
“When Jags first came through he was a midfielder,” Reid added.
“But everyone, apart from him it seemed, was of the opinion that defence is where he’d eventually end up.
“To begin with, Jags wasn’t too keen on the idea because he enjoyed being in the thick of the action, getting forward and joining in the attacks.
“When he was asked to drop further back, he probably felt he’d miss out on all of that and I can understand why.
“But the reason we all felt that’s where his future lay was because of his pace. Jags is much quicker off the mark than people realise and that allowed him to get out of trouble and recover if he made a mistake.”
“Mind you,” Reid continued. “That time in midfield was probably the making of Jags. If you grow up as a centre-half then you get used to the ball coming at you in one direction.
“When you’re in the middle, it arrives from all different angles and that helped to improve his positional sense and technique.
“But Jags got his opportunity in midfield and that’s what ultimately it’s all about. Circumstances and opportunity.”
Circumstances conspired to ensure that Kyle Walker, another graduate of United’s youth system, missed the plane to Brazil after sustaining a pelvic injury.
Reid, United’s academy director until 2009, also worked closely with the now Tottenham Hotspur full-back and said: “Kyle is everything you’d want to see in a modern football. He ticks every single box with regards to his technique, pace and physique.
“But he also had to take a step back, as it were, to take a couple forward. And by that I mean being an overage player in the under-18s which you could do in those days because there wasn’t such a thing as the under-21 league.
“Playing with lads who were younger than he was helped turn Kyle into a leader. Having that responsibility honed his leadership skills.
“Kyle’s story is a lesson to every youngster to make the most of whatever situation they find themselves in and take something positive from it.”
“When I think of Kyle my mind always goes back to a match we were playing at Crewe,” Reid continued.
“Noel Blake, the England under-19s coach, was there and midway through he came over to me and asked me about him.
“I replied ‘You do know he’s playing a year above his age?’
“But Noel didn’t care and promised there and then that he’d be in the squad for their next international. He was and, as they say, is history.”
Fitness permitting, Jagielka, aged 31, is expected to partner former United loanee Gary Cahill when England’s bid to reach the knockout stages of the tournament continues with a fixture against Uruguay on Thursday.
“I’m chuffed to bits for Jags to see him doing so well.
“And that’s because, as well as being an excellent footballer, he’s an excellent person too. The type of person you want to see make something of themselves which, as we all know, is exactly what he’s done.”
Former Blades Kyle
and Phil Jagielka, left,
on England duty