Jagielka: 'I never thought I'd get this far with England'

Injury robbed the Everton defender of a possible World Cup place – but has handed him a Euro spot

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The Independent Online

Until Saturday night, Phil Jagielka anticipated that he would be playing golf in Portugal by now, but one twist of fate later and Everton's centre-back finds himself on the plane to Poland next week – the country that his paternal grandparents left in 1948.

At least Jagielka will be in a country that knows how to pronounce his surname correctly this summer, even if his chances on the pitch could be limited. His middle name, Nikodem, was the name of his late grandfather, who left his hometown along with Jagielka's grandmother after the Second World War and, via Africa, arrived in Weaverham in Cheshire, where they settled.

Jagielka knows the Polish for grandmother ("babcha") and he can "do the hello and goodbye" but was reluctant to stretch it any further unless he raises expectations among the locals when he arrives in Krakow next week. In many respects, Jagielka is the Football Association's ideal ambassador for Euro 2012; his grandparents' hometown was near the Ukrainian border and, given subsequent border disputes, he thinks it could now be part of Ukraine.

He could even have played for Poland had he chosen but, at 29, with 11 England caps, he hopes that his promotion at the expense of the injured Gareth Barry means that he will at last get a taste of tournament football. He was offered the chance to go to Oslo as one of Roy Hodgson's five standby players. When Barry tore a stomach muscle in the game against Norway on Saturday, it was Jagielka rather than Jordan Henderson who stepped up to replace him.

"It's a little bit of a whirlwind, but I'm delighted to be here," Jagielka said. "I was supposed to be golfing on Friday in Portugal but I'll take being at The Grove [hotel, England's base]. I can do a job [in midfield and across the defence]. If you think I'm going to be Glen Johnson at right-back or Stevie Gerrard in midfield then you might be a little bit disillusioned. But I think I can cover a job. I might give Joe [Hart] a run for his money between the sticks as well.

"Not only is it important for the people that are playing the game but for the lads those who aren't to prepare those who are. It's a whole team thing. It's not a case of those who are playing and those who aren't. We are in a tournament now, playing for our country. Every training session is important. The manager might not only need the versatility for the games but also for the sessions he wants to put on.

"He offered me a chance to play against Norway. If I'd said 'no', at 29, I might as well have said I was retiring from international football. And I don't see myself doing that. I never thought I'd get this far. That's not me being negative, but a few years ago I was playing in the Championship. Things have progressed nicely, so it was never a case of me saying 'no'."

Jagielka might have been included in the squad for the last World Cup finals but for a cruciate ligament injury that wiped out most of his 2009-2010 season. His Everton team-mate Leighton Baines was also cut from that squad by Fabio Capello, who had fears about him being a bad tourist. Baines strongly denies the suggestion that he said he was "homesick", and there was never any doubt about him being in the England squad this month.

Baines said: "I remember speaking to Theo [Walcott], who didn't go either, and I think he got exactly the same phone call [from Capello]. We were both put through to the manager who said, 'I'm sorry you won't be coming with us, but I look forward to seeing you for the qualifiers. Thank you and goodbye.' That was it.

"I was a late runner for the squad anyway. I don't know if the [homesick] stories had an impact. I'd like to think not as I'd assume I'd have been asked about it if it was an issue."

Identified as a potential target by Manchester United this summer, Baines admitted that the attention was flattering. "There is no harm in people talking about it because it is a great club. But I'm at a great club as well, a club that I love. The focus now is all on the tournament. There's not much time to let other things seep in. It's about getting your head on this job for the next six weeks and try to do the best you can."

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