'I'm one of the lucky ones to have played for England'

Thursday 07 May 2015
Jermaine Jenas played 21 times for England and scored one goal

In February 2003, Jermaine Jenas was surprised to receive a call from Sven-Goran Eriksson – despite being tipped off by his Newcastle United team-mates.

The 19-year-old midfielder was impressing at his club after a year on Tyneside and his performances had come to the attention of the England manager.

"I remember going into training with Jonathan Woodgate and Kieron Dyer and they said 'you know you're going to get picked, right? You're 100 per cent in this squad, you're playing too well to be ignored'," recalled Jenas, who had moved to the north-east from boyhood club Nottingham Forest only 12 months earlier.

Jermaine Jenas

Jenas was man of the match on his senior debut against Australia

"I didn't expect it, but by the time I'd got home it was there on the telly and I'd had about 100 missed calls from my mum. It was an amazing moment."

A few days later, he was pulling on the Three Lions to make his senior bow against Australia at Upton Park, one of six debutants that night, including current captain Wayne Rooney.

And as he spoke thoughtfully to TheFA.com he said he will never forget the game – particularly after being named man-of-the-match and setting up Francis Jeffers, another making his international bow, for England’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat.

"My life went through the roof and changed very quickly once I had made my debut," he revealed. 

"There was a lot of pressure on us but I felt that when we came on we both played really well.

"I got man-of-the-match on the day and still have the champagne in the house. It was a day I'll never forget."

Jermaine Jenas

Jenas netted his only England goal against Switzerland

Of those six England first-timers against the Australians, only Jenas, Rooney and keeper Paul Robinson reached double-figures. Jenas went on to win 21 caps in total and scored one goal, against Switzerland in Fabio Capello’s first game in charge in 2008, but his international career came to an unexpected halt a year later.

Growing up at Forest, Jenas was a regular in the England squads, making his first appearance at Under-15 level, he played throughout all the age groups, captaining the Under-19s and Under-21s.

Senior recognition was only a matter of time, and after getting his first taste – and the PFA Young Player of the Year award soon after - he thought things would only get better.

A ‘box-to-box’ schemer, he continued to clock up games for the Magpies, then for Tottenham Hotspur after a 2005 switch, while for England he was winning more caps, despite injuries, competing in a midfield containing David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves.

Jermaine Jenas

A host of big names were competing for midfield slots with Jenas

Jenas was part of Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad in Germany, though he didn’t play, and when after a few injury problems, he scored in Capello’s first game as England boss against Switzerland at Wembley, he hoped his career would kick-on under the Italian.

But unbeknownst to Jenas, only a year later in Doha he played his final game for England in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil.

"I didn't think it would be my last game," he admitted. "I was playing for England against Brazil.

"It wasn't the most vintage performance, we had a lot of injuries and it was a tight game until about 60 minutes when we gave away a sloppy goal and lost 2-0 in the end.

"I never felt that it would be my final appearance, I'd been in the squads since I was 19, over the span of eight years.

Jermaine Jenas

Spurs was Jenas's home for eight years

"When it comes to England I do have some regrets. Injuries have been the things that have held me back in my career.

"After I scored the goal against Switzerland, that was the time for me to kick on. I'm pretty sure I would have started against France in Paris, and who knows from there.

"But because of an injury it didn't work out for me.

"As long as you play well for your country you stick in there and that was my opportunity to go and do that."

However, though Jenas thought he would play more for England after an impressive debut, he still looks back on his international career with fondness and pride.

Jermaine Jenas

Injuries scuppered Jenas's England ambitions

Currently working as a pundit for the BBC as he tries to overcome a cruciate knee ligament injury picked up last year as his contract at Queens Park Rangers was drawing to a close, Jenas hasn’t given up hope of a return to action one day.

"The pride you get in playing for your country, I can count myself as one of the lucky ones to have pulled the shirt on for England," he said.

"If someone told me when I first got into the squad at 19 years of age that I'd only get 21 caps, I'd never have believed them.

"I knew it was a tough team to break into but I always felt I'd have got a lot more caps than I did.

"I had some proud moments playing for my country - it could have been different but I'll live with it."

Jermaine Jenas

Jenas's final England game was in Doha against Brazil

He continued: "I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament a year ago, and I'd been doing my rehab at Queens Park Rangers to get it back to a place where I wanted it to be.

"But it's not getting there at the minute, so I'm not in a great place when it comes to being able to play football.

"I'll just have to take the advice of my surgeon and see where things go from there.

"But luckily enough I've found a nice role staying connected with football. Working for the BBC has been brilliant, they've been very helpful.

"Working as a pundit has been comforting, knowing I have the ability to have a career - a different career- which involves football, going to games, watching games, seeing my mates still who are on the pitch.

"Hopefully that will be something that if my knee isn't right, I'll be able to go on a do for a number of years."

By Jamie Bradbury FA Editor