Sheffield United: Yes, it's sentimental but there's more to Phil Jagielka's return than that

There is a plaque at Bramall Lane, bolted to a wall outside the stadium and fittingly made from stainless steel, which celebrates a quote by Phil Jagielka.

By James Shield
Friday, 05 July, 2019, 11:09
Phil Jagielka enjoyed great success with Sheffield United during his first spell at Bramall Lane

"Sheffield United always has been, and always will be, in my blood," it reads, detailing his relationship with the club which set him on the path towards becoming an England international. "I don't think there's a team with a bigger heart," the centre-half also said before departing for Everton in 2007.

Yesterday, by returning to South Yorkshire following 12 years away, Jagielka proved the veracity of those words. Demonstrated, in an era where footballers kiss the badge of sides they have only just joined, that they actually meant something.

Capturing a player capped over 40 times by his country and with proven Premier League pedigree represents another statement of intent by United, only 24 hours after they broke their transfer record to recruit Luke Freeman. Jagielka's experience, his knowledge and presence in the dressing room, should prove priceless assets for a squad the vast majority of whom have never played at the highest level.

But the move is also a big deal for Jagielka too who, now aged 36, will probably finish his career back where it all started. It is Roy of the Rovers stuff. The type of journey many professionals dream of making but few actually get the chance to realise.

“It just feels right,” he said after putting pen to paper on a one year contract. “I was hoping for the phone call but you are always wondering if it will come.

“You always keep your fingers crossed. I think the manager will tell you it didn't take long to get the deal done. It took minutes rather than days.”

Phil Jagielka made nearly 300 appearances before joining Everton

After graduating from their youth programme in May 2000, Jagielka went on to make 287 appearances for United before moving to Goodison Park seven years later. The last of those came in May 2007, when they were controversially relegated from the top-flight following a home defeat by Wigan; Jagielka's handball, during the dying embers of a nervous first-half, presenting the visitors with the penalty which sealed their victory and ultimately survival. It was an unfortunate way, given the role he had played in United's promotion 12 months earlier, for the youngster to bow out. But not as unfortunate as the governing body's handling of the 'Carlos Tevez Affair', which saw them refuse to dock points from fellow strugglers West Ham despite finding they had entered into an illegal third party agreement. Bryan Robson, who succeeded Neil Warnock at the helm, tried to persuade Jagielka to stay. But, in truth, his performances showed he would be treading water in the Championship.

"I'm surprised he hasn't moved even before now," Jagielka's team mate Paddy Kenny admitted at the time. "He's a Premiership quality player. He deserves his chance."

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Everton provided Jagielka with that opportunity when they paid £4m to sign him later that summer. He grasped it with both hands, featuring 285 times for the Liverpudlians under six different managers and eventually being appointed as their captain before announcing he would be leaving at the end of last season. Highlights included scoring the winning goal against Arsenal towards the end of the campaign and the equaliser against Liverpool five years earlier.

But the pinnacle of Jagielka's time at Goodison Park came in 2012 and 2014, when he was selected by England in their European Championship and World Cup squads. He featured in two of their three games during the latter in Brazil but Roy Hodgson's side were eliminated from the tournament.

Phil Jagielka has mixed with some of the biggest names in the business: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

"One of our greatest ever servants," Everton director Bill Kenwright wrote when it was confirmed Jagielka's contract was not being renewed.

"Uncle 'Jags' will always be in my heart," one of their supporters responded on Twitter.

Despite their connections. United's decision to bring Jagielka back to South Yorkshire - Celtic had also expressed an interest in acquiring his services - has been influenced by sporting reasons rather than sentiment. Crucially,his presence injects even greater authority into a dressing room already inhabited by strong characters such as Chris Basham, Oliver Norwood and Billy Sharp.

Wilder has made no attempt to disguise the importance he places on personality; a trait which will become even more vital when United lock horns with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Phil Jagielka (back row, third from right) during his first spell with Sheffield United

"We want people with the right approach," he has said. "Proper blokes. Proper professionals."

Jagielka certainly fits into that category.