Sheffield United: Memories come flooding back as Phil Jagielka makes poignant return to Blades
The return of Phil Jagielka to Sheffield United will surely see him race up the list of all-time appearance holders at the Bramall Lane club.
The 36-year-old, who enjoyed seven formative years at the club before his transfer to Everton in 2007, sits 40th in the list with 287 showings. And with the likes of Michael Tonge and Gerry Summers sat within 20 games of that tally, the 40-cap former England international could well yet make long strides into the club’s pantheon of long-term servants.
His first spell with the club coincided with the Blades’ last foray into the top tier and, under the no-nonsense tutelage of Chris Morgan, he quickly grew a reputation as a savvy, tough tackling defensive midfielder with burgeoning leadership qualities.
And either at centre-half alongside Morgan or in midfield, in front of the dependable Paddy Kenny, they were the unit on which a Neil Warnock side could be built – uncompromising, smart and above all, competent.
Soon after becoming a first-team regular at the age of 20, Jagielka began attracting the interest of a host of Premier League clubs, including West Ham, Leeds United and Wigan Athletic. But at Bramall Lane he remained, achieving promotion in a 2006/07 season during which he deputised as Morgan’s vice-captain.
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It was during this time that Manchester-born Jagielka carved himself an unusual niche as a back-up goalkeeper, skills that were famously called upon in a match against Arsenal in December 2006. Warnock’s assertion that Jagielka’s ability between the sticks meant he was able to name an extra outfield player in goal ahead of a substitute keeper was proved correct after he kept a clean sheet for 34 minutes of the second half.
With United relegated that season in controversial circumstances, he moved onto Everton for £4m and quickly found himself a new home. As is so often the case, the defender’s big move prompted an England call-up, and he earned the first of those 40 caps in a match against Trinidad and Tobago in 2008.
He went on to play at Euro 2012 and at the 2014 World Cup, scoring three goals for the Three Lions.
Jagielka returns to Sheffield United in the twilight of his career and will add much-needed Premier League experience to Chris Wilder’s young and talented squad. Who plays ‘young Jags’ to his Chris Morgan remains to be seen.