Jagielka: We'll miss tackling when they force it out of our game. It's like telling a dribbler to stop taking people on…
00:34 GMT, 15 December 2012
Phil Jagielka was once a reluctant centre half, utterly crestfallen when told by Craig Short, his former Sheffield United team-mate, that he could reach the very top if he moved into defence.
It was meant as a compliment, encouragement from a veteran for a promising youngster, but having been switched from centre forward to midfield in his teens and likened to Patrick Vieira by Neil Warnock, this seemed like the final insult.
A dying art: Phil Jagielka (L) slides in to tackle Bryan Ruiz of Fulham
'Centre back had never crossed my mind,' said Jagielka. 'I found it a little bit boring. You didn't get to run around as much or score and you'd have to jump in front of shots and make blocks. It was all a bit more painful.
'I was just gutted that a man with his experience, a great centre back himself, had told me I wasn't going to be a midfielder. We've had a laugh about it since because he was pretty much right.'
Over time Jagielka has embraced the role. Elite football has changed to a point where his pace, mobility and anticipation are arguably more important weapons for a centre half than muscle and aerial power.
At Stoke today, muscle and aerial power may be tested too, but he has learned to love the varied art of defending and protects its honour with the honesty he shows on the pitch for Everton and England.
This is why, while watching Wigan against Newcastle on TV, something started to eat away at him. It was a red card for Wigan's Maynor Figueroa, sent off by Mike Jones after a challenge on Papiss Cisse, and further evidence that contact is being airbrushed from the game.
In control: Jagielka shows off his adidas boots
'For me, that isn't a sending-off,' said Jagielka. 'It possibly isn't a foul, but it's given and then they don't rescind it. It's almost becoming impossible. If you can't go shoulder-to-shoulder with someone in the box and go in hard enough to barge them out of the way, it's going to be hard to tackle anyone without the risk of being sent off in every game.'
It certainly was not like this when Jagielka, now 30, made his debut at 17 for Sheffield United against Swindon in May 2000.
'When I was starting out, in a game where there's a bit of needle, you'd want those balls that drop perfectly between you and your midfield opponent,' he said. 'You'd throw the kitchen sink in. If you got the ball and you took him out and he was in a heap, it was accepted.
'That was only 10 years ago. We're not talking back in the 1950s when people used to smash the hell out of each other.
'There were opportunities you were looking for and vice-versa. If you had a heavy touch and you saw the guy coming in, you'd brace yourself, thinking, “Here we go”, but you wouldn't have people jumping out of the way, scared or rolling around six times after they'd been, you know, flicked on the ear.
'Football's moved on. It's harder to tackle people, especially with any sort of force. I don't want people to get injured. I'm not saying you should hurt people on purpose or try to put them out for any length of time. I'm not asking the ref to let career-threatening tackles go but they should recognise the difference between dangerous tackles and aggressive ones.
'It's like telling a dribbler you can't take a defender on more than twice because you're making him look bad. Different people have different skills. If you can win the ball and you're not studs-up, halfway up his leg, and your momentum takes the guy out and he ends up on the floor with a little bruise, then why shouldn't that be a legal tackle
'I think we're going to miss tackling when it's pretty much ruled out in the next few years. It can make the atmosphere so much better. When we play at Goodison and someone puts in one of those tackles and the fans get revved up, there's nothing better.'
Multi-angle, slow-motion TV replays have altered the landscape and defenders tread a high wire where one tiny miscalculation can mean a penalty or a red card or both.
'You've got to put the brake on and that can put you in a worse situation,' said Jagielka. 'You try to nick the ball and it comes off the attacker and he's through and you concede a goal. A few years ago, you'd have taken the lot and it would have been fine.
'On television, they slow it down to every footstep, every inch. They can make the nicest of tackles look evil. They'll say, “He's gone in with his studs up”, but has he really If you look in quick speed, all he's done is trap the ball. Slow it down and it looks like he's trying to break the lad's shin.'
Strikers, being strikers, prey on these uncertainties. 'Some people panic and jump out of the way and don't appeal for anything and that's perfectly fine if you don't want any contact,' added Jagielka.
Feel the force: Mario Balotelli is tackled by Jagielka
'And I know if you're running at full pace and someone clips your heel, that's all you need to fall flat on your face. But if you're stood still and someone flicks your heel and you collapse, it's not the same is it My force hasn't caused you to fall but you've felt a touch and decided to throw yourself to the ground.
'If it happened in a normal workplace, you'd be laughed at. But sometimes in the box, you give someone the slightest of touches and that's it.
'It's never going to stop until something's done about it. And unless you can find an easy way of finding out which is which, this dive or no-dive debate is going to stick around for a long time.'
After training with Stoke, Everton and Manchester City, he joined Sheffield United in 1998, aged 15, and made his debut two years later as a substitute against Swindon at Bramall Lane on May 7, 2000.
Apps: 287 Goals: 22
When Sheffield United were relegated in 2007, Everton bought Jagielka that July for 4million. He made his first-team debut as a substitute against Tottenham at White Hart Lane on August 14.
Apps: 175 Goals: 6
After six appearances at Under 21 level, Jagielka made his full international debut, once again as a substitute, against Trinidad & Tobago in Port-of-Spain on June 1, 2008.
Apps: 16 Goal: 1
Jagielka talks straight, like he plays. He might be in his home town of Manchester on a photo-shoot for next year's adidas catalogue but no-one will accuse him of being one of football's posers.
He fought hard to rescue his own career after Everton rejected him at 16, learning to identify pitfalls with help from his brother Steve, who was four years older and spent six years at Shrewsbury before hopping around non-League.
Phil reflects on this big-brotherly influence as a key factor in his development. Steve would return from youth-team training sessions at Manchester City or Stoke and drag his younger brother outside to pass the ball and improve their weaknesses. 'I'd want to go to the park and play headers-and-volleys but we'd do some sort of long-range passing drill or work on our weaker foot,' said Jagielka. 'It wasn't something I wanted to do. I was 12, I couldn't wait to find my goalie gloves and dive around for an hour.
'But he gave me plenty of good
advice. He didn't have the breaks I did. He did his cruciate early on
and it didn't work out well, but he's always been there for me with
advice and warnings. It has made a lot of my decisions easier just by
knowing what he's been through.'
Sheffield United found Jagielka,
nurtured him for eight years and sold him back to Everton for
4million. He has not stopped improving under the gaze of David Moyes,
another from the union of centre halves.
The signed shirt from his England
debut, in Trinidad in 2008, hangs framed in his home. 'The game may not
have meant much but that was my first game for England and it's still a
very proud day,' said Jagielka.
'I was gutted when I got home and realised it might not be allowed as an international because we had made something like eight subs instead of seven.'
There's less anxiety these days. The era of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and Jamie Carragher is over for England and Jagielka stands firmly among those competing to be Roy Hodgson's defensive leader.
For a reluctant centre half, his case is a good one. He continues to improve and shoulder responsibilities at Everton. He studies football, reads the game and his attitude is never questioned.
And he loves a tackle.
Phil Jagielka wears the adidas Predator LZ boots which are designed with five lethal zones to support perfect ball control. You can order yours by December 17 to get them in time for Christmas at www.adidas.com/shop