Understanding the Goldfish
When we signed him, many Spurs fans shrugged with uncertainty. At the time, we had a few central midfielders and arguably there were other areas that required assessment and improvement in the way of incoming transfers. Yet whilst Mendes, Davis, Murphy, Ghaly, Tainio have all been and gone - Jenas is still with us. Regardless of the manager at the helm (Jol, Ramos, Redknapp) they all rate him highly as do his team mates. Even Jose found the time to slot JJ into his fantasy football team. Yet many fans (Spurs or otherwise) just don't quite get the hype surrounding him and are basing this on what he produces on the pitch. But still, he is practically undroppable and always considered a first team regular. He also gets a fair share of England call-ups.
So why is it that a Spurs fan can't say with any certainty that Jermaine Jenas is a top drawer quality player?
What makes it even more confusing is when Jenas doesn't play. We seem to lack a certain something in midfield and yet when he does play we only ever dwell or notice his mistakes and errors. Unless of course, he plays very well and scores. We like him when he does that.
So is it simply our perception of the player? Is his work ethic understated? Bit like Carrick was initially. To agree with this, would be an act of self-patronising. Football fans (well, most of us) are not daft and read the game well. We haven't played the game, but that doesn't mean we are blind to it's finer details. We can spot a decent player and his worth to the side. We can right? I mean football, at a fundamental level, is fairly basic. It can't be that difficult to work out how productive Jenas is. Is it?
Is it? Yes. It appears so.
Jenas is the first one to be tagged scapegoat when things don't quite go right. He's an easy target for the boo-boys. But why exactly? Does he try less than everyone else? Is he responsible for the team not playing well when he doesn't perform?
A player is either crap, average, good, very decent, great or world class. Yet Jenas is very decent as far as people in the game are concerned and between crap and good if you listen to the fans. Well, the problem and frustrations - at least from the fans perspective - is that we all know Jenas could be great or close to it. Maybe not great, but very very good. I'm defining that by what we - in the stands - consider to be top drawer, rather than what a manager or a team mate thinks.
Someone like Ledley King for example, is a great player for Tottenham. Why? Well he not only excels at what he does, he does it consistently and makes a massive difference when in the side. And his errors are so rare, you can count them on one hand. But not everyone can be of Ledders high standard. Which means fans are likely to be have less patience for someone who is not as good. And equally so for someone who could be a lot better. But with King, there is no mistaking his quality. You can assess Dawson in the same manner and conclude that although he has clumsy moments, on form (and high on confidence) he is an excellent defender. But with Jenas, its all a bit clouded. Everyone is in agreement (management and players and fans) regarding King. It's not the same case with JJ.
The fact is, Jenas has all the qualities you would wish to bestow on a midfielder. He's an outstanding athlete. He can cover every blade of grass, such is the lads energy levels. He can tackle, he can pass (I'll come back to this, so stop laughing) and he has a knack of getting into the box at the right time to claim a goal (much like he did against Villa on Sunday). He's pulsating when he surges forward and you can clearly understand why people cite him as a box to box player because he can get stuck in at both ends of the pitch. We miss him when he doesn't play because he can be the connection between the midfield and attack (not so relient on this nowadays thanks to Modric).
Box to box is also another way of tagging a player who is not quite a DM and not an out and out attacking midfielder (or simply a 'complete' midfielder). I say not quite, because even though Jenas has all the qualities, for prolonged periods of time they are all wrapped up in potential. He's potentially this, he's potentially that can only get you so far before people start to question why it remains all boxed up and hardly ever displayed.
Lampard is not the worlds greatest footballer. Talent wise. But he scores plenty of goals and his work rate and influence on the game is up there with the best. Sure, he has had some excellent players doing the donkey work around him, meaning that he can express himself as he wishes out on the pitch. Gerrard is far more complete than Lampard is - although you'd still get people slag off the both of them for being over-rated. But the fact remains they both scrub up well defensively and both create and score goals.
Now compare Jenas to the both of them. You might think its a redundant exercise to do so, but Jenas is meant to be of similar ilk to the two aforementioned players. He possess all the same qualities they do. At least that's what the label says.
Jenas has the engine, he has a bit of everything defensively and offensively but he does not excel in any of his abilities to the standard and consistency of Lampard of Gerrard. Now and again he does stick in a class performance. Whether its a high octane running of the show with a goal or two or a digging deep and battling hard fought display - he can play to a very high standard. But not week in, week out. Even though Lampard and Gerrard might not do it to a very high standard every single week - they do it infinitely more times than Jenas ever does.
Jenas is dynamic...at times.
He has all-round abilities. He can defend and attack. He scores goals and assists.
Stamina? An abundance of it.
Can he tackle, pass and shoot? Arguably, yes.
Can he retain possession? Debatable.
Being able to do a bit of everything is just half of what's required. The rest is all in the head. He has decent awareness and vision, but his passing doesn't always come off the way it should. What he also lacks is the most important element that is required. Confidence. Tinged with arrogance.
Jermaine simply doesn't believe he is as good as people tell him he is. So regardless of all the abilities you might possess, if you can't display them when it matters, then the excuse that the potential is there is nothing more than a day dream that will never come true.
His composure and concentration lag behind when he is low on self-esteem. We've seen how plenty of times his performance has degraded when the crowd have got on top of him when his has been below-par. On other occasions he has has run the show, scored scorchers and has everyone beaming with pride.
Jenas lacks basic mental strength. And because of the expectations we have, it's far more apparent when he misplaces a pass. His general lack of consistency means on occasions he also misses a tackle or just backs away from one altogether. On other days, he is relentless. And because its so obvious when Jenas is on form and not on it, nobody tends to notice if he is in-between the two. Again, if you look at the Villa game - although he scored - he worked hard in midfield, made one or two mistakes in possession, but put in a good shift for the team. He does this quite often, and many tend to ignore the work, other than say his manager and team mates and the odd fan. The rest ask what it is exactly he does for the team.
You've probably read that and disagreed with me, proclaiming Jenas was average/poor on Sunday. It's a tricky one this. One fan says one thing, the next the complete opposite. Yet both fans witnessed the same game.
You can probably pick out any other current Spurs player - past or present - and you'll find it easier to state whether said player is/was a decent for us. Apart from say Darren Bent who also splits Spurs fans into differing sections of opinion much like JJ does.
So we basically have a player who chokes/suffers from mental blocks. A player who can have an outstanding game, but usually against lesser teams. A player who looks a lot worse when he does play poorly virtue to the fact that so much more is expected from him. When he doesn't play, we tend to lack a spark in midfield. When he does play, he frustrates people with his see-saw composure but can also delight thousands with moments of magic.
He can pass. He can't pass. He can tackle, he can't tackle. He goes missing, he runs the show. The bloke is an enigma. Or maybe he isn't. Maybe Jenas is simply an average player who excels now and again rather than a player with all the ability in the world who doesn't show it week in week out because he lacks belief. There's a difference between the two. The latter can become a great player, the former never will.
Maybe its more simplistic than that. Maybe JJ's abilities are not good enough to match his awareness of play. Or maybe its the other way around and his decision making is shabby and erratic and he panics and goes for the wrong ball/pass/shot.
So what of Jenas and our current midfield? Having signed Wilson Palacios - a far better proposition for the DM position than Zokora - can Jenas (with the man-management of Harry Redknapp) discover self-expression in a more balance side and sustain it? If he does partner Wilson, then Modric has to drift in from the left-hand side (his under-rated versatility coming in handy), which makes him a little less effective than possibly starting alongside the Panther in centre-mid. Or does having Modric on the left-hand side mean that the responsibility of creative outlet is down to him and Jenas role is simply to hassle the opposition midfield (aiding Palacios) and support the forward line while Wilson sweeps up and protects the defence? Having an enforcer in the centre of the park would allow Jenas to wonder forward more directly (box to box) and cause a bit of trouble for the opposition. Something he did more than well against Villa.
Jenas role in the side has to be defined but as the side continues to evolve under Harry and the midfield begins to take shape we'll know if having him in the middle with Palacios is the way forward.
Some would suggest that Huddlestone should be given the opportunity. Yes, Huddlestone. You know, the big bloke with anchors for feet. More on that particular discussion in Part III.
Definition of Jenas role placed aside, there's still the questions concerning his self-confidence. If he doesn't get over it, he'll always yo-yo between the acclaims and the boo-boys. At the minute, that's good enough for a place in the Spurs team.
Can't say I'm any closer to solving this particular conundrum.
Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part I