Jermaine Jenas: The elegant pretender glows in the long shadow of Lamps

Tottenham's maturing midfielder is determined to transport his high-energy game to the World Cup stage. Jason Burt hears a stirring story of progress
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It is only when he returns to his arrival at Spurs, from Newcastle United, for £7 million in the summer that he tugs at the sleeves of his hooded top and shifts his body weight in his seat.

But even then there is no deviation in his quick-fire responses. "When a club pays quite a bit of money for you then the people want instant success," Jenas says. "But it's not always like that, and it did take me a couple of games to bed in."

Indeed. White Hart Lane was not the softest of landings. "I can understand the fans' frustrations," Jenas says of his patchy performances at the start of this most expectant of seasons. "But hopefully now I have run into a bit of form, scored a couple of goals, I can just keep playing my football."

The goals - a well-timed header against Everton and a sumptuous free-kick against Manchester United - have been crucial. "They have given me that extra bit of confidence that was maybe lacking," admits Jenas. "And I've settled down into the position I've been asked to play."

The goals have also confirmed that he can fulfil the demanding role the head coach, Martin Jol, has allotted to him - that of a "box-to-box midfielder who scores" in a team who have been overly reliant on their strikers. "It's nice to give me the licence," says Jenas. "I know I've got the ability to do it. Technically and mentally I can score goals, and it's something I've been working on. You set yourself targets."

Jol expects seven or eight more this season - and well into double figures next - from someone, he says, who can be "a top player in the future. And that is what I have to teach him". It helps that the Dutchman has a willing pupil, whose departure from Newcastle after three years in the North-east, claiming he could not cope any longer with "living in a goldfish bowl", amounted to a cry for help. It was answered by the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy - apparently acting on the advice of Sven Goran Eriksson.

The England coach, who has stuck with Jenas throughout the tribulations of the past two years, is an avowed admirer. But then the elegant young player has never been short of those, with David Platt once declaring he would get 100 England caps.

Jenas was, of course, Britain's most expensive teenager, having moved to Newcastle from Nottingham Forest for £5m, before Wayne Rooney burst on the scene. Even so, Jenas still pipped Rooney to win the PFA's Young Player of the Year award in that breakthrough season, 2002-03, for them both.

But then, with just one goal in 15 months and an admission that he had lost his way, it started to go wrong. "I look back at it and it was for a variety of things," Jenas says of the slide in his performances. "Sometimes your first year is a bit easier. Some say your second is the toughest, and you have to get through it really".

There were other reasons. "Maybe I also played in a lot of different positions," Jenas adds. "I was chopped and changed. Right wing, left wing, holding position. I'm quite adaptable, but it's not easy when you are not settled in a certain position to find any rhythm." The instability at Newcastle, also, did not help, and it is telling that Jenas adds that with Jol "it's nice to know what the manager wants from you, definitely".

Not that Sir Bobby Robson, who took him to Newcastle, was unclear. "When I look back on it sometimes I think, 'Oh, that was a bit harsh'," he says of his treatment at the hands of a manager whose birthday, albeit separated by 50 years, he shares. "But I understand why people do it. My dad, when I was younger, used to batter me and I'd come off games crying sometimes. Now I look back and think, 'I know why'. It was because he wanted me to progress. Bobby Robson was brilliant at man-management and he understood what he needed to do to get what he wanted from each player."

And yet Jenas - or "JJ" as he is universally known - earned a reputation on the fringes of Newcastle's "brat pack" of players, the bling-bling, big-time charlies with their flash jewellery and even flashier cars. It is an accusation that Jenas denies - although he admits to a liking for fashion accessories - and it does appear incongruous for someone entrusted with the captaincy of Forest at 18, and of Newcastle on occasion.

Jenas also had the maturity to become the unofficial squad spokesman after England's black players suffered appalling racist abuse in Spain last year. "I spoke to Ash [Ashley Cole] on the coach and he said, 'I'd like to go out there but I might say something I'd regret," Jenas recalls. "That was the feeling. There was a lot of hurt, and I felt there was something that needed to be said. I felt confident enough to talk about it because it's something I believe in."

It is a confidence that came from his upbringing. "My mum and dad always said, 'Believe in yourself, no matter what'," explains Jenas, who was brought up in Clifton, Nottingham, and was exposed to racial abuse as a child. His parents, Denis, a former semi-professional footballer with Burton Albion, and Lynette, split up when he was six, and that also developed his sense of responsibility. Indeed, an added bonus of being selected for England's summer tour to the United States was that Jenas's father, now a coach in Albuquerque, was able to attend training and watch his son play in Chicago.

Then Jenas was paired with Michael Carrick, now his partner in the centre of Spurs' midfield. The two also played together at youth level, and it is a burgeoning combination, with Jol declaring their performance last week against Arsenal as the best he had seen since he arrived at the club.

Throw Ledley King, who impressed in midfield against Poland, into the mix and suddenly there may be three team-mates competing with each other to perform in one position for their country. Jenas laughs: "Everyone wants to play.You could have five of us [with Paul Robinson and Jermain Defoe] going to the World Cup."

That English spine is important. "You don't have it at most clubs these days," admits Jenas. "and it's nice to have that core of homegrown talent. It can only be good for English football. If we can stay together then I'm sure we will be some team."

Jenas is deferential enough to admit that such is the competition in the Spurs squad - especially with the overloaded midfield - that he has enough of a job on his hands right now staying in the team for tomorrow night's Premiership match against Bolton Wanderers.

All five of Spurs' England players should be in the squad announced later today for Saturday's friendly against Argen-tina. "With a World Cup at the end of the season every player wants to be there," Jenas says, although he accepts that with just "four or five [England] games" until the tournament begins there is little likelihood of Eriksson shaking things up.

If Jenas is to be the high-energy player he wants to be - and Jol glowingly related that against Arsenal no player ran more (the ProZone statistics showed that Jenas covered 13km) - then he will eventually have to dislodge Lampard. "You see the hard work he has put in and can fully appreciate he deserves it," Jenas says. "It's difficult as a midfielder not to look at Lamps and think, 'I'd love to be there'."

Not that he is daunted. It is just a case of progressing. "You look at Lamps and Stevie G [Steven Gerrard] and they probably went through the same process when they were younger," Jenas reasons of his own career. "It's all about maintaining it. It's great being out there and training, but eventually I want to break through. You have to have confidence in your own ability, especially today with the standard of players you have around you in that England team."

Now that his belief has returned, he feels able to say that he expects to go to Germany. "I understand we have a lot of good, talented midfielders," Jenas adds. "But I'm one of them and I don't see why not." It is an attitude from which both club and country can benefit.

From the Toon to the Lane

FULL NAME: Jermaine Anthony Jenas.

BORN: 18 February 1983 in Nottingham.

VITAL STATS: 5ft 11in. 10st 9lb.

CLUB CAREER: Nottingham Forest (Aug 1999- Feb 2002): 31 matches, including four goals. Joined Newcastle United for £5m in Feb 2002: 123 matches (12 goals). Left for Tottenham Hotspur in Aug 2005, costing £7m: has played eight matches, scoring twice.

INTERNATIONAL CAREER: Won nine caps at England Under-21 level before making his full debut as a substitute against Australia in February 2003. Was named man of the match. Has totalled 14 England appearances.