Jermaine Jenas enjoys the challenge of dictating a game from the centre of midfield.
THE THURSDAY EXCLUSIVE: At 21, England’s Jermaine Jenas enjoys the challenge of dictating a game from the centre of midfield.
There always seem to be plenty of young strike sensations or talented rookie centre-halves.
But any professional will tell you that dictating the tempo of a game from central midfield is a job where experience counts.
Well, a new breed are doing their best to put the theory to bed. Teenager Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal is belying his years by pulling the strings in the centre of midfield.
And, thankfully, for England we have a 21-year-old who epitomises the ‘old head on young shoulders’.
Jermaine Jenas has already played more than 100 games for Nottingham Forest and Newcastle, most of them in that key position in the centre of midfield.
If anything is the secret to his success, it’s probably inner calm and a willingness to learn.
"I’m not the type to worry about anything," says Jenas, who won his eighth England cap against Azerbaijan and can expect to be named in Sven’s squad to face Spain next week.
"It is important as a midfield player to understand the tempo of the game and to dictate it.
"When you are under pressure, you have to slow it down sometimes. When you are on top, you have to speed it up. It is important to recognise that. It is one of the things I am trying to improve on in the game."
One area where he is definitely improving is in front of goal. It took Jenas six months to get off the mark last season. This term he already has goals against Birmingham and Norwich to his name as well as a few ‘near-misses’.
"I say to myself ‘more goals’ every season. I think that is important for a midfielder as well as creating," he admits.
"Sometimes I am asked to play a little bit deeper and protect which is important for the team. But generally I like to get forward.
"I was on the end of a few, missed a few, but was happy because I was getting in the positions. It showed my hunger for goals."
Jenas has been in the best form of his life this season, whereas last term he suffered the first blip since arriving at Newcastle as a £5 million teenager.
"I wasn’t playing anywhere near the level I was used to and of course it’s frustrating because you can’t put your finger on it.
"It’s at times like that you get good advice from your more experienced team-mates. I had Gary Speed and Alan Shearer at Newcastle and they were able to put it in perspective and remind me that all players have that dip from time to time."
The big bonus this term has been England. Not that Jenas expected to be playing in Baku in the absence of David Beckham.
"I was happy to be in the squad for the Wales match but I was still sitting in the stands, I wasn’t even on the bench," he says. "Then a few days later, I’m in the team. That is how mad football can be.
"I’m not assuming I will keep my place, not even in the squad. There are too many good players around. You just have to be ready at any time and try and seize the opportunities.
"Frank Lampard is the perfect example. He has done so well for Chelsea and England in the last couple of years, it is nearly impossible to leave him out."