Sheffield United: The numbers prove Phil Jagielka's worth

Six weeks ago, when Phil Jagielka returned to Sheffield United following 12 years with Everton, the narrative surrounding the centre-half's decision was mind-numbingly predictable.

By James Shield
Wednesday, 14 August, 2019, 16:25
Chris Wilder: James Wilson/Sportimage

Three days shy of his 37th birthday and surplus to requirements at Goodison Park, Jagielka's decision was portrayed as being influenced by sentiment. Rather than being a statement of intent, many pundits suggested the move was proof he knew the end of his career was nigh.

Chris Wilder, the United manager, accepts this type of hackneyed commentary is inevitable given Jagielka's backstory. Despite being born in Sale, he progressed through United's youth system before completing a £4m transfer to the North-West of England and winning 40 England caps.

But as Jagielka prepares for Sunday's match against Crystal Palace - the first top-flight fixture staged at Bramall Lane since 2007 - Wilder insisted the defender views his transfer as the start of a new chapter. Not an emotional epilogue.

"He's not looking at this as some sort of end of season swan song," Wilder said. "He wants to do his best for a club which - for him and all of us - means so much."

Jagielka, of course, took part in United's last home Premier League fixture; when a defeat by Wigan Athletic saw them relegated back to the Championship after just one season. Responsible for conceding the penalty which sealed his team's fate, Jagielka was nevertheless one of their most influential performers that term, as evidenced by Everton's determination to sign him for £4m.

Although the opportunity to come full circle proved impossible for Jagielka to resist - "You hope for the call but you're never quite sure it might happen," he admitted after putting pen to paper on a 12 month contract - it was a purely pragmatic exercise on United's part. The speed of their progress under Wilder, climbing from the third to the first tier of the domestic game in only three seasons, coupled with his preference for giving developing talent from the lower divisions, means United's squad lacks experience at the highest level.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Only 10 members, including Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie had operated there before last weekend's visit to AFC Bournemouth. And with 360 PL appearances to his name, Jagielka boasts 118 more than this group combined.

Phil Jagielka: James Wilson/Sportimage

"He's great to have around the place," Wilder said. "He wants a part to play and he knows he's got a part to play. I think I've got 22 or 23 players who have given me some really difficult decisions to make. The hardest part for me now is actually picking a team for the games, because they all bring something to the table."

One of those dilemmas revolves around Chris Basham and Jagielka, who watched last weekend's draw at The Vitality Stadium from the bench. Basham was preferred in Dorset but, with Jagielka quickly grasping United's 3-5-2 system, Wilder now enjoys the luxury of tweaking his rearguard specifically to combat opposition threats.

"We want that competition," he said. "It's important to have that. It difficult to achieve anything if it's not there."

Phil Jagielka: James Wilson/Sportimage