The journey has been long and, at times, improbable but Phil Jagielka seems likely to find himself as the senior player at the heart of England's defence in Basle's St Jakob Stadium tomorrow night.
Any one of the series of difficulties he has experienced since David Moyes brought him into the top flight in July 2007 – the struggle to justify his £4m fee when first deployed in central midfield, the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained just before the 2009 FA Cup final, a difficult first England start in Seville two months before that, in which David Villa cut him up and scored – militated against a prolonged international career.
But the individual who has been known to park up in a Mini at Everton's Finch Farm training ground and have his fishing rods frequently ready for use is still standing – at a time when John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley Kiing and Michael Dawson are not.
Nothing seems to come easy for him, though, and a badly bruised foot sustained at Aston Villa left Jagielka in doubt for Friday's 4-0 win over Bulgaria until the last moment. He underwent treatment from the England physios three times last week. "I'm sure the physios were bored of seeing me," Jagielka said. "It was frustrating because I got the chance to start the last game and I didn't know whether I would be fit or not. Physically, it's been too tough for me."
In those circumstances, Jagielka was surprised to get a chance at all at Wembley "especially as we had quite a few other options there". West Ham's Matthew Upson could have been one of those options but his omission, even from the bench, against Bulgaria suggests Bolton's Gary Cahill, who played his first 30 minutes for England, replacing the desperately unfortunate Dawson, may appear again against Switzerland tomorrow.
Despite the famed versatility that has led to Jagielka being used as an emergency goalkeeper in the past, the 28-year-old admitted that playing on his less-favoured left side of central defence for England has been "a little difficult". It is, he said, "a bit of a shuffle to the left side. As a right-footer, it's always a bit easier to play on the right".
If Cahill starts tomorrow night, the unfamiliarity will deepen. "I have known [Michael] Dawson quite a while," Jagielka said. "I've trained and played Under-21s with him. Our games have moved on since, but it's quite comfortable. Obviously, I have not played a lot with Gary Cahill. Same again, he's a good defender and you just get on with it."
Wretched though Dawson's injury was, Jagielka looked the more assured of the two men in their starts together against Hungary and Bulgaria. The high ball Dawson misjudged minutes before his injury on Friday resembled his error which let Hungary's Zoltan Gera through on the attack three weeks ago and concluded with Jagielka giving up an own goal.
That, put with Jagielka's struggle to deal with Spain's Villa after Fabio Capello had picked the Everton player for the February 2009 friendly, having watched him so capably shut out Fernando Torres in an Anfield derby, underlined that playing for England comes with risks attached. For Jagielka, those risks included drawing the opprobrium of his club coach, Moyes.
"I was the first person to phone him and tell him he had made a mistake," an unflinching Moyes said of his player after that Spain game. "We don't hide here."
But you could also make the point that neither of Spain's goals in that match covered Terry, with his wealth of Champions League experience, in glory either. Jagielka, who admits it was "nice" to have been linked to Arsenal this summer", is deferential only up to a point when asked whether he can keep out Terry, whose poor positional play was exploited by Germany at the World Cup, once the former captain is back to full fitness.
"It's always hard to displace players like JT and Rio. But I would like to think [I can]," he said. "If Rio and JT come back fit for the next squad and they are in form and they get picked, they are not bad players to be behind. But I'd like to put real pressure on them.
"The manager [has] always said he wants to pick form players, so if I can keep playing international football and keep keeping clean sheets then, hopefully, it cranks up the pressure a bit."Reuse content