‘Solo Performances That Changed The Game’ – Jermaine Jenas
In an era when football matches are a constant part of life, cup fixtures still bring that little extra sparkle to the minds of players and fans alike. In the Capital One Cup this season, that sparkle has often translated into goal-scoring frenzies, and on the odd, special occasions, it produces a memorable solo performance from a player who may not always be the centre of attention. In this series, FFC takes a look at some stellar one-man displays…
Jermaine Jenas will be watching the Capital One Cup quarter-finals from the sofa as both his current club, Nottingham Forest, and his parent club, Tottenham, are out of the competition. Perhaps, as he sits and watches the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa in action, the box-to-box midfielder will have time to reflect on the road his career has taken in recent seasons – and think back to the year he made the League Cup his personal showcase event.
When Tottenham reached the semi-finals of the 2007-08 League Cup, seeing off Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Manchester City in identical 2-0 wins to set up a semi-final against arch-rivals Arsenal, the occasion represented a prime opportunity for Spurs to get their hands on what would be their first silverware since their last League Cup triumph, in 1999.
Spurs’ squad that year was one of their strongest in recent memory, following heavy investment the previous summer which resulted in the additions of Gareth Bale, Darren Bent, Younes Kaboul, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jonathan Woodgate among others. With the likes of Jenas, Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane, Ledley King and Aaron Lennon already at the club, and Paul Robinson at the height of his powers between the sticks, the stage seemed set for a successful campaign.
The reality, though, could hardly have been more different. A dismally inconsistent Spurs suffered a turbulent season, including the firing of Martin Jol in October and the arrival of Juande Ramos, and finished 11th in the Premier League. Maybe this doesn’t sound that disastrous, but it represents Spurs’ worst final position of any season since the 2003-4 campaign, when David Pleat’s comparatively short-handed squad had bumbled to 14th.
The League Cup, however, was to be a different story. That two-legged tie with Arsenal in the semi-finals began inauspiciously, with a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium setting up a tense second leg. Jenas scored Tottenham’s goal in the first half, and was tireless in creating chances for the likes of Steed Malbranque and Berbatov which went unfulfilled. But even after Theo Walcott’s fortuitous equaliser, more was to come from Jenas in the return leg.
The midfielder once again opened the scoring back at White Hart Lane, this time inside three minutes, surging forward into the box and lashing a shot beyond Lukasz Fabianski. He remained a force throughout the game, forcing an own-goal from Nicklas Bendtner with a sublime free-kick and setting up Berbatov only to see the Bulgarian’s finish clatter back off the post. The entire Tottenham side put in a class display, destroying Arsenal 5-1 to advance to the finals.
Jenas’ personal hot streak in the competition would continue when Spurs met Chelsea in the final. It was another of his free-kicks from which Woodgate would score the winner early in the extra-time period, and although the defender was named man of the match, Jenas’ impact had been profound.
In the years since that trophy, Jenas’ fortunes at White Hart Lane have changed and he no longer appears to have a future at the club where he was once made vice-captain. Last season’s injury-ruined loan spell at Aston Villa got him nowhere, and thus far back at childhood club Nottingham Forest he has been limited to substitute appearances as he works back towards full match fitness following a torn Achilles’ tendon. But who knows? Maybe watching the latter stages of the Capital One Cup will give the former England international something to aim for. Still only 29, he has a few years in him yet.