It’s been a gripe among sections of the Everton fanbase in recent seasons, but this writer believes Phil Jagielka has been a fine captain for the Toffees.
Not a winning captain, granted. Nor a skipper in the cartoonish style of a Sergio Ramos or John Terry. Rather a player that’s been a fine ambassador for the football club, led by example so many times throughout his Everton career and has provided a tremendous role model to the numerous youngsters integrated into the setup down the years.
As such, taking the armband from the veteran will be a big challenge for one member of the Everton squad. Sure, Jagielka remains an Everton player and could stay at the club beyond the summer yet. But with the England international well down the pecking order under manager Ronald Koeman, a decision on leadership will need to be made.
While the Toffees boss may seek to draft in a new skipper in the summer who can go straight into the side, running the rule over the current squad there are players who deserve serious consideration. Here’s a look at the credentials of four who should be in the running to take over.
The man who donned the armband for the visit of Sunderland on Saturday was Leighton Baines and as one of the club’s longest serving players and a key figure in the starting XI still, perhaps he’s the most likely to succeed Jagielka at this point.
Like his fellow England international, Baines isn’t a template leader. The left-back is composed, diligent and someone who sets standards in his playing style, not a footballer who barks instructions to his team-mates. He’s a settling influence, not a galvanising one.
There’s also plenty of experience to call upon, with Baines making his 300th Premier League appearance in the win over the Black Cats. And as Everton continue to move forward into an exciting new era, having a thread of familiarity through a player branded “of one us” by supporters on a banner last year may be ideal.
Yet Baines is player that’s never seemed to completely embrace the extra responsibility at Everton. To the displeasure of most supporters he relinquished penalty duties to Romelu Lukaku under Roberto Martinez and while they’ve been resumed under Koeman, his monopoly on set-pieces is no more either. If offered it, would he even take it?
The captain’s armband has always felt temporary for Baines, despite his many virtues as a player and a man. It’d be no surprise, as such, if Koeman looked elsewhere.
Should the Everton boss wants a quintessential skipper, he has one readymade in Ashley Williams.
The former Swansea City man led with a distinction at the Liberty Stadium for many years and on the international stage with Wales his authority at the back has been central to their recent rise, culminating in a semi-final appearance at the UEFA European Championship last summer.
Williams ticks a lot of boxes for a skipper. As a centre-back he can organise the side, while his gallant playing style—willing to put his body on the line for the cause—must be infectious to his team-mates. Additionally, he’s a superb communicator.
The leadership qualities that have bristled during his time in the Premier League were likely a key factor in Koeman recruiting Williams ahead of 2016-17. As things stand, he seems to be coping better than Jagielka with the demands placed on an ageing centre-back in English football’s top flight and has shown outstanding durability too.
But for how long? Indeed, plenty of Evertonians have yet to be completely convinced with Williams, especially in partnership with Ramiro Funes Mori. If he was made in the summer, would he simply be a stop gap until age catches up with him or he’s eventually replaced?
The armband arguably wouldn’t enhance Williams’ performances anyway; he operates and organises like a captain would already. If Koeman wants to see a player grow and improve as a result of being given the honour, the commanding Welshman may be overlooked.
Earlier in the season, there was a significant contrast between Seamus Coleman’s displays for the Republic of Ireland and his displays in royal blue.
For his country, the right-back was tenacious and industrious, rattling into tackles and scuttling forward with his trademark endeavour. Having been made the team captain by manager Martin O’Neill, Coleman looked like a player inspired, with the armband adding extra impetus to his game.
For Everton, he struggled for rhythm under Koeman and initially had his forward forays shackled by a manager seeking to instil some cohesion into a team bereft of organisation. But as Coleman has become acclimatised to his manager’s style and the Dutchman to his, he’s made rapid improvements since the turn of the year.
You sense the captaincy would potentially kick Coleman too and at this point in his career, he needs it.
After all, the Irishman has been at Everton for eight years and given the extraordinary rate of his development, he’s arguably the most secure first-team player in the current XI, despite an early-season flourish from Mason Holgate. The captaincy would ensure the Irishman doesn’t sag into a comfort zone.
At 28, Coleman still has many years ahead of him and despite tenuous links to other Premier League sides, it’s tough to envisage him departing any time soon. Given his charisma, quality, determination and new-found familiarity with leading a side, the right-back may well be the standout candidate.
Although plenty of have marvelled at the midfield mastery of Morgan Schneiderlin so far in his Everton career, there are other more subtle facets of his game that have resonated too.
At Stoke City, in his first start for the club, he was the first Everton player to contest the linesman’s decision to flag Lukaku offside, which ultimately triggered the reversal of the call and an equalising goal. Against Bournemouth he took control of the match when the visitors were in the ascendency and knitted together the move for the fourth goal.
And against Sunderland, not only did Schneiderlin impudently manage the tempo once again, he was abuzz with enthusiasm too. When the ball wasn’t in play he was in the ear of his team-mates, ensuring they remained alert to danger and positionally aware.
Schneiderlin looked like a captain in the making against the Black Cats and although it’s still the nascent stages of his Everton career, the Frenchman epitomises everything Koeman wants this Everton team to be—powerful, precise and aggressive in all aspects of their play. Why not make him the principal of it?
It’d be a gamble from Koeman given Schneiderlin has only made a handful of appearances for the football club, but the midfielder is clearly his man. Given the magisterial manner in which he’s started his career at Goodison Park, few Evertonians would be begrudge the manager going down that path.
Gareth Barry has regularly stepped in as skipper when Jagielka has been absent this season, although with one year left on his deal and what’s likely to be reduced playing time in 2017-18, a more long-term view should be taken.
The most romantic choice may be Ross Barkley, as a young, local and exciting midfield player. However, he’s starting to add a crucial consistency to his game and is enjoying sharing the spotlight with Tom Davies. In the future, it’d be wonderful to see, but as things stand, it may be a burden.