England centre-back Phil Jagielka has reflected on an eventful return to international football; a game in which the 27-year-old completed his first 90 minutes for his country in a 2-1 victory but provided Hungary the lead with an own goal just after the hour mark.
It was, therefore, a bittersweet night for the Everton man, who earned his fourth cap and first since suffering a career-threatening knee injury in April 2009. Jagielka, who narrowly missed out on Fabio Capello’s squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, was selected for the friendly after a summer spent proving his fitness for the upcoming Premier League season. He spoke to FIFA.com post-match about his return to the fold, performance at Wembley and desire to make a place in the squad his own.
FIFA.com: Phil, is it a case of ‘all’s well that ends well'?
Phil Jagielka: Yes, especially after scoring my first goal for England! No, overall I’m delighted as you can tell from my smile, an own goal isn’t going to affect my confidence. I was just delighted to get the nod – and to play 90 minutes, wow! Obviously it’s been a long time since I’ve played and it’s the first time I’ve started at Wembley, and thankfully our captain turned up and won us the game.
It’s obviously the beginning of a new era and it’s only been a couple of days, but how have you found it, has there been any difference from the last time?
I know a few more of the lads through playing in the Under-21s and being of a similar age. It was a bit strange settling in initially, having not been here for a while, but it’s been good, sharp and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been nice to just come away for a few days, not too long and obviously knowing that the season is going to start in a few more days as well, so everything’s exciting.
Have you noticed a bit of freshness in the squad after the disappointment of South Africa?
Yes, definitely. The squad is quite different with about ten different people in it since I was last in. Obviously everybody that’s in the squad deserves to be in, and it’s still quite young. I think I’m quite old now when compared to the rest of the lads but there is definitely a different atmosphere. Obviously with the wide men playing and bringing Ashley [Young] on again, playing with wingers, maybe the manager is looking at playing that way.
It was hugely important to get the win, wasn’t it? It couldn’t have been an easy atmosphere to play in...
I think the fans were good considering. They could have easily come out and hurled a lot more abuse but I think for the majority it was positive until we went 1-0 down. As you can imagine it was a bit edgy but no, it was a hard game tonight. I think if we had got a goal in the first half Hungary may have come out and we would have been able to pick them off, but as it was, they had a game plan and stuck to it. They scored a goal and that obviously tested our character, but thankfully we had Steven [Gerrard] to bang a couple of goals in.
Is the target now to get in the squad for Bulgaria and Switzerland?
Yes, definitely. It was just nice to get back into the squad. It's supposedly a new era and he’s changing things round, but the manager might bring a few people back for the qualifiers. But I was desperate to get in this squad and try and stay in it.
It must have been crushing to miss out on the FIFA World Cup squad. You were in contention weren’t you?
Yes. It was obviously out of my hands, I probably came back from injury a month too late. I still played quite a lot of football but you can’t expect to make these squads when you look at players like [Michael] Dawson and Ledley [King]. They’d had fantastic seasons at their clubs, so if it was the other way round and it was me who had done as well as they had and someone had only been back for a matter of ten or 11 games, I’d have been gutted. I’d have loved to have been there but obviously it didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped. So from a personal point of view it was a good break for me to have to try and get myself right, and I think pre-season has been good for me and I’ve enjoyed it.
If you think back to 12 months ago, you were rehabilitating yourself back from the knee injury, so how does it feel to come back and be England’s number five?
Well, there were dark days and little setbacks here, there and everywhere but I just had to get through those days. Obviously these are the sort of days that you want to get yourself back into contention to play for. I’m delighted.
You head back to Everton now for the start of the Premier League season and you’re linking up with a very highly-rated youngster in Jack Rodwell, who captained the Under-21s on Tuesday. Do you think he’s ready for a senior call-up?
Definitely for a friendly game. Obviously in a competitive match there are a few people ahead of him at the moment, but Jack wouldn’t have looked out of place if he had of been called up for these three days. I’m sure there will be a friendly game where Mr. Capello wants to bring a few more younger players in and with Jack performing the way he is, not only for Everton but for the Under-21s, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.
So with younger faces coming through, the future does seem bright for England...
Hopefully, yeah, but we can’t just turn to the young players and forget about the results. We still need good results. Tonight we won, it wasn’t the best of results but we started the winning process again, and hopefully we can keep that going through the qualifiers and have as good a qualifying campaign for the EUROs as we did for the World Cup.