Jermaine Jenas says England’s high-profile players “tended to do things their way” during the so-called Golden Generation – and he felt as though those players would be picked no matter how well anyone else was playing.
Jenas won 21 caps for England between 2003 and 2009, but Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard had a duopoly of the midfield spots during that time, leaving Jenas to feel as though there was nothing he could do at club level to get a proper chance.
“It was difficult for any England midfielder to break up the Lampard-Gerrard midfield combination we had at that time,” Jenas says.
“They were two great players and tended to be automatic picks, which was difficult for players like myself and Michael Carrick, who were pushing to try and get into the England team.
“The frustration from my perspective was that nothing we could have done would change the way the team was selected.
“That was disheartening for players who were not first picks and getting your head around the reality that you probably wouldn’t play got a little disheartening when you met up with England squads.
“In hindsight, maybe there were a few ingredients that England were lacking. We had a lot of high-profile players in my time and they tended to do things their way. They were successful at club level and believed that would work with England, but it didn’t.
“Whatever way you look at it, we got it wrong. We got it wrong as players, managers and as a set-up overall.
“That set of players were good enough to challenge for any tournament, but it didn’t happen for us and we didn’t really get close either, which was disappointing.
“We had a team of great individuals, but we struggled to perform at our best as a unit and I felt I didn’t show my best with England either.”
Big club advantage
Jenas believes his best chance of establishing himself for England came when he was first called up by Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2003, when Lampard was yet to establish himself, but the respective performances of their club sides did not help the then-Newcastle United midfielder’s cause.
“There was a time when I was battling with Frank Lampard to start in the England midfield alongside Steven Gerrard and maybe that was a missed opportunity for me,” Jenas says.
“But he was in a Chelsea side challenging for the Champions League under Jose Mourinho and I was at Newcastle.
“I got the impression that Sven really liked me at the time, but I was at a club that was on the slide a little and that worked against me.
“Training with England was great. Working with all these great players, you lift yourself and when I went back to Newcastle, it felt like I was a few steps ahead of the lads around me.
“Then, by the time you next meet up with England, I was back down at Newcastle levels again and that didn’t work well for me in terms of catching the eye in training with England.
“I was surrounded by winners and their level may have been a bit higher than mine for a variety of reasons.”
Jenas went to the World Cup in 2006 but failed to make an appearance, yet it was under Fabio Capello a couple of years later when he truly realised there was nothing he could do to ever break into the team.
“I felt like I was going to get a run in the side under Fabio Capello,” Jenas says. “He seemed to really like me. I played in his first game, scored in that game and he was delighted with everything I did.
“By the time the next game came around, I had just won the League Cup with Spurs and the manager Juande Ramos said I should really push to secure a place in the England side.
“Then suddenly I was dropped from the entire squad. I went from starting the previous game and feeling like I had done well to being dropped altogether. It was bizarre.
“Capello said you had to play for your club the previous weekend to be a part of his England squad, but he went back on that policy a few times over the course of his time in the job.
“It was a shame because I felt like I had something to offer, but it all fell apart for me with England around that time.
“To be honest, I became pretty disillusioned with the whole England/Capello set-up around because I must be the only person in England history to start a game, score, play well and then be dropped from the squad for no apparent reason.”
Jenas’ career was effectively ended when he ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in April 2014, although he did not announce his retirement until January 2016.
Now impressing as one of the brightest pundits on the circuit, Jenas has plenty of regrets about the things he didn’t manage to achieve, but ultimately he now acknowledges he did well to have won as many caps as he did during the era he was a part of.
“I had some great moments in my career, but I also have some regrets,” says Jenas, promoting BT Sport’s Supporters Club, which has supported nearly 50 projects since 2013 working with disadvantaged young people.
“I didn’t achieve everything I wanted in my career and that never sits well in many respects
“I was part of one of the most elite periods in the history of English football when it comes to midfielders, but I also look at myself and ask if I could have done more.
“At club level, I was part of the last Tottenham team to win something (2008 League Cup) and that is a success I am proud of, but I feel there could have been more in my career.
“But when I look back at my England career now, I’m pretty happy to have got 21 caps in the Lampard/Gerrard era.”
Jermaine visited Pitshanger FC to mark BT Sport’s The Supporters Club, which is raising £7m for good causes. Watch ‘Jermaine’s Supporters Club’ on June 20 on BT Sport 1 at 9.45pm
By Kevin Palmer