The Carlos Tevez saga, overlapping centre-backs and unfinished business for Phil Jagielka at Sheffield United

THE surroundings were familiar but not necessarily the faces as Phil Jagielka strode back into Bramall Lane earlier this summer. All except two, that is.

Proud return: Sheffield United's returning son Phil Jagielka.

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Having his shirt pulled after scoring against Burnley in his first spell with the club in 2002.(Picture: Chris Lawton)

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Billy Sharp made his senior debut for Sheffield United as a teenager alongside the Sale-born defender in 2004.

By then, Chris Wilder had left the Blades to embark on a career in management but Jagielka has special reason to recall their own time on the staff together.

“I actually cleaned the manager’s boots when he was a player here and I was YTS,” says the former England international before noting the surprised look on The Yorkshire Post reporter’s face. “I am shocked he hasn’t told you by now. He loves telling everyone else.”

Jagielka, after a dozen years away at Everton, is back at the club where it all began. The 36-year-old – his next birthday is a week away – brings a wealth of experience and proven Premier League pedigree to newly-promoted United.

Glad to be back: Phil Jagielka in training before the trip to Bournemouth.

He also knows all about what makes the Blades tick, having graduated from their youth programme in 2000 and going on to make 287 appearances.

The last 38 of those came in the top flight, as Neil Warnock’s side fought an ultimately unsuccessful fight against relegation.

Memories of that 2006-07 campaign and the injustice of the Carlos Tevez affair that saw West Ham United stay up after being fined rather than docked points for entering into an illegal third party agreement will come flooding back today as the Blades head to Bournemouth.

What happened still rankles, as is clear when talk turns to that controversial demotion and a final day that saw Tezez score the winner at Manchester United as the Blades crashed at home to Wigan Athletic.

“This does feel like unfinished business after what happened last time,” replied Jagielka, whose handball in the closing stages of an edgy first half presented the Latics with the penalty that clinched their own survival.

“I said that to the manager when I signed. For a club that means as much to me as this one, to end it like that with relegation was awful. That hung over into the following season, with all the appeals and so on.

“The club then struggled a bit afterwards, obviously dropping down another division later. That was hard to watch.

“I was not here then but I did still feel part of the club. I came through here. This club gave me my chance.

“Forget what team I may have watched locally as a boy, this was the team where it all began. The two clubs who mean the most to me are Sheffield United and Everton. They both gave me so much.

“Still feeling part of Sheffield United is why I have loved what has happened these past two years.

“Watching the boys find their spark and get on this amazing run brought a little tingle. It gave me goosebumps, to be honest.

“Exactly what the city needed. Sheffield is a massive city with two big football teams. Both have had difficult times but, thankfully, the red half has kicked on. Now it is time for us to kick on again and make sure it stays that way.”

United’s route back towards the Premier League may have been a bumpy one, the club eventually spending six years in League One.

Jagielka’s career path, however, proved to be altogether smoother. Bryan Robson, who succeeded Warnock in the summer following relegation, tried to persuade the defender to stay at the Lane but it was clear he belonged in the top flight.

Everton duly paid £4m for his services and their investment proved a sound one. Jagielka went on to play 285 times for the Goodison Park club and twice won ‘Player of the Season’.

He also appeared in the 2009 FA Cup final, Everton losing 2-1 to Chelsea, and played 40 times for England. Jagielka remains Goodison Park’s most capped Three Lions international.

Having become the second of 10 signings made by Wilder since promotion, his wealth of experience is likely to be invaluable in the battles that lay ahead.

“You can watch the Premier League on 10 different channels and I am sure the lads will be aware of all the quality,” he said, when asked about the step up in class the Blades can expect.

“But I also believe the boys will be pleasantly surprised by how well they will fit in. They will be fine.

“The standard is higher and you are usually punished for a mistake. But these boys will be okay.

“Sure, there will be a couple of shocks to the system at times. There are some elite teams out there. But, bar two or three teams at the top, everyone is beatable. Upsets go on week in, and week out.

“Mind, they probably are not upsets any more due to every team being able to beat the other. We know that and must make sure we take pressure off ourselves by winning games. Simple as that.”

Jagielka, as a former Everton captain, understandably attracted interest from elsewhere after signalling his intention to leave Goodison Park.

Celtic were understood to be keen, while there were a couple of nibbles from the United States. But he admits the pull of south Yorkshire was a strong one.

“I was told things would start to heat up the moment the manager was back,” said Jagielka, who trained with Burnley to keep fit after leaving Everton.

“The way squads are these days in terms of how big they can be means managers often have to get rid before taking anyone in.

“I kept myself fit, and waited for the ’phone call. Sheffield United was the one I wanted but you can’t build up your hopes, just in case nothing happens and you feel deflated.

“It was a case of keeping my head down, and also proving to myself I wanted to continue. It would have been easy to call it a day and go on to do something else.

“Happily, Sheffield United came in and the manager wanted it. I did not need my arm twisting, put it that way.

“It is a long time since I was the new boy. But coming back here has been great. I was lucky to play for Everton, very much a family club. As were Sheffield United, when I was growing up.

“It feels the same now. I relish this kind of environment, the sense of ‘all for one’ that there is. A really good vibe. Instead of some clubs where there can be a team of individuals, when you are not too sure what you will get week in and week out.”

Now back at the club where he once cleaned the current manager’s boots, the big question is whether Wilder was a good tipper or not. “He was good, actually,” comes the reply. “Very generous.”

Happy to be still learning the game...

PHIL JAGIELKA has played at a World Cup and a European Championship. He has also spent 13 years in the Premier League and appeared in an FA Cup final.

But even such a stellar CV has not spared the defender plenty of homework since rejoining Sheffield United as he tried to get up to speed with the revolutionary tactical approach that has taken the Blades from League One to the top flight inside three years.

“Overlapping centre halves is different,” admits Jagielka in an exclusive chat with The Yorkshire Post in the pre-season sunshine of Portugal. “Never thought I would see it and certainly not 12 years ago when I left. But it is great how the lads have taken on board what the manager wants.

“Everyone mucks in here. If someone does make a crazy run, someone fills in.

“There has been extra homework for me, sitting there with the coaching staff. But something I pride myself on is the ability to learn and pick things up.

“I played in a number of positions in my career. Maybe not ‘keeper again but I was right-back, defence, centre midfield. Those will be the positions I find myself in.

“It excites me. I am at an age and the part of my career where it can be hard to feel excited.

“Or feel you have to learn. But I feel both here and I love that.”