Jagielka hopes to return for start of next season

Knee surgery tomorrow could allow injured defender to return for August opener
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The Independent Online

There was a glimmer of good news yesterday for the stricken Everton defender Phil Jagielka, who will have knee surgery tomorrow in London, when he learnt he should be back in action at the beginning of next season.

It will be small consolation for the 26-year-old Goodison Park player who has been ruled out of the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley next month. But the club have rushed through preparation for Jagielka's operation to repair his ruptured anterior cruciate knee ligament, an injury suffered in Saturday's home defeat by Manchester City.

Jagielka fell awkwardly and was carried off, knowing almost instantly his dream date at Wembley was gone. But by organising the operation to repair the damage so quickly, Everton are giving the England defender every chance of being fit for the beginning of the next campaign, with the Toffees now assured of a place in next season's Europa League.

Everton physio Mick Rathbone revealed the state of shock felt by Jagielka and his colleagues after the match on Saturday. Rathbone said: "We have done this [preparation] as quick as possible. He will undergo surgery on Wednesday morning, and is obviously very upset. But he is philosophical, and looking to get the operation out of the way so he can start the recovery process as quick as possible.

"Thursday morning is day one of the recovery and we can start counting down until when he plays again. Until you actually get the surgery done, you're not on the road to recovery. We are very grateful to the surgeon, Andy Williams, in London who has fitted him in at short notice.

"He is considered one of the finest knee surgeons in Europe and is used by a lot of the top players in the Premier League."

The injury was a cruel blow for the former Sheffield United player, arguably Everton's most consistent performer this season, and the man who scored the penalty shoot-out clincher in the Wembley semi-final triumph over Manchester United nine days ago.

Now he is facing a sad end to the campaign after playing such a major part in Everton's pursuit of European football through the league and FA Cup this term. Jagielka's colleagues and the club's fans have been stunned by such a bitter blow to the Manchester-born player, who will be consigned to the stands to watch the 30 May final against Chelsea.

Rathbone said: "This has knocked everybody for six. At the training ground this morning everyone was feeling it. For the first 30 minutes after the game Jags was in a state of shock and then just very, very upset after that. What upset him was when he saw how badly the players, coaches, manager and the fans were. He is out of the FA Cup final and nobody can get him that back. But he is a tough guy, he will get on with it all and he will hopefully be back as good as new as near as possible to the start of next season."

The only bright spot from Saturday's game was confirmation that European qualification had been assured for Everton because of Chelsea's win at West Ham. That meant Chelsea were certain of a Champions League berth next season.

So Everton will go to Wembley knowing that even if they lose, they will still qualify for the Europa League. That is even if they have not claimed sixth spot in the Premier League and a European place from their league position.

Jagielka is unlikely to be fit for the qualifying match Everton will play in early August ahead of the Europa League group stages. And his place at Wembley looks likely to go to Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo.

Yobo said: "I would not want to play just because Phil is injured, that is not the circumstances I like. But I have been injured myself this season and I am just getting back. I played alongside Phil against City and was in at Chelsea last week. For me it was a good comeback but to lose Phil is difficult. Who is going to play [in the final] now depends on the manager but for me I think I made my own case against Chelsea so the final is going to be very interesting."

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