England v Republic of Ireland: Everton defender Phil Jagielka may lack swagger but has pedigree to fill gap left by Rio Ferdinand and John Terry
It was after this month's goalless Merseyside derby at Anfield that David Moyes, then still his Everton manager, said that an England place was there for the taking for Phil Jagielka on the back of arguably his finest season yet.
Moyes suggested the only thing the 30-year-old Mancunian lacked was self-belief, though anybody who witnessed his immense performance that day, encapsulated by several immaculately timed blocks and interceptions, might think he makes a convincing case already for the vacant role of England's defensive leader, now that Rio Ferdinand and John Terry are no longer around.
Jagielka may lack the obvious swagger of some top-level footballers – he punctuated his pitch-side press briefing at St George's Park with a series of smiles and wisecracks – yet his easy-going nature did not stop Moyes appointing him as Everton's new club captain earlier this year, and the player himself insists he enjoys the responsibility of leadership.
"Once I am comfortable in a place I am quite a loud person anyway," he said. "It does come quite naturally to me. That is the way I do play. If you ask my central defensive partners and full-backs who have played alongside me I try and talk as much as possible."
As for the perceived lack of belief of a player once rejected as a schoolboy by Everton, Jagielka had the following to say: "I have never thought of myself as being particularly shy or lacking self-confidence but I can understand what [Moyes] means. It is not in my character to be super confident. Once you are like that, there is only one way to go. I probably do play better when I am a bit more arrogant but that is not really the person I am and I don't think it will be the person I turn into."
Jagielka credits Moyes, who signed him from Sheffield United in 2007, for his help in his development from "being possibly a Premier League defender to playing some games for England".
Jagielka is only just 6ft but has compensated for a lack of stature with speed and anticipation. "I am not the biggest centre-half in the world. I have had to adapt my game to how it suits me best. Hopefully, on the international stage it will suit me as well," he said.
Yet if he feels in his prime as a club footballer – "I do feel good and I was playing in a team that has been doing well" – now is about taking that next step with England. Although an unused substitute at Euro 2012, he scored his first international goal in England's 2-1 defeat of Italy in August and retained his starting place for the three autumn World Cup qualifiers, taking his number of caps to 16.
Sadly, an ankle injury then meant he missed the March fixtures against San Marino and Montenegro at a time when the position was "up for grabs", with Hodgson having started six different central defensive pairings this term. After that setback, this week's two friendlies duly hold real significance for a player for whom next summer's World Cup could be a case of now or never.
The fact he partnered Gary Cahill in the open training session may be a positive sign for tomorrow's match with the Republic of Ireland, an "English Premier League-style game" that will be followed by something completely different: Jagielka's first visit to Rio de Janeiro.
"To go and play Brazil in their back garden will be a fantastic opportunity and, hopefully, to test the water for next year," he said, albeit, true to type, he did not wish to get too far ahead of himself. "I am not going to put too much pressure on myself. I will take it as it comes and, hopefully, if you speak to me in a year's time I will have had a few more caps. And maybe I will be a little more arrogant!"
Roy Hodgson warns fans against abusive chants
Some 150 England fan club members affected by last October's abandoned World Cup qualifier in Poland had the privilege of watching Roy Hodgson's national squad at an open training session at St George's Park, but the Football Association will hope this PR goal will not be followed by an own-goal by their supporters when the Republic of Ireland visit Wembley tomorrow.
The FA has emailed a letter from Hodgson to all England ticket holders for the game, the countries' first meeting since England fans caused the abandonment of their February 1995 friendly in Dublin. "We ask those attending to not take part in any chanting – particularly of a religious or political perspective – which could cause offence to our visitors or fellow fans," Hodgson urges.
The full-back Kyle Walker has withdrawn from the squad with a fibula injury.
Belfast Telegraph Digital