Jenas on wanting to 'stick it' to trolls after hosting World Cup draw

EXCLUSIVE: ‘I knew there would be people on social media waiting for me to fail… I wanted to stick it to them’: Jermaine Jenas opens up on his motivation to conquer his nerves and shine as World Cup draw host in Qatar

  • Jermaine Jenas presented the FIFA World Cup draw live from Qatar last week 
  • He surprised many when he took to the stage but Jenas shone and won praise
  • Speaking to Sportsmail, Jenas has admitted to wanting to prove his critics wrong
  • The former England midfielder also insisted retired footballers look for pressure 
  • Jenas spent a week rehearsing in Qatar and was then able to navigate his fears 

Speak to any retired footballer and what they miss most is the pressure, the adrenalin, the nerves. ‘You spend the rest of your life searching for that,’ says Jermaine Jenas. Last Friday night, in Doha, the former England midfielder found it.

It surprised many when he emerged on stage as conductor of the draw for this year’s FIFA World Cup. Inevitably, it prompted much derision on social media.

But Jenas was word perfect, navigating the complexities of the draw and peculiarities of those ex-players and managers picking the balls.

Jermaine Jenas has admitted he wanted to prove his doubters wrong at the World Cup draw

The 39-year-old – a Match of the Day regular and host of The One Show – had spent all week rehearsing in Qatar. Not that his familiarity negated the fear. Nor did he want it to.

‘That period beforehand in my dressing-room… I’d been to the toilet a few times, I had my ear pods in, anything to relax. But then you check your watch and there’s still half an hour to go!’ Jenas tells Sportsmail.

‘I just looked at my script and told myself, “Those first three lines are the most important thing in the world to me right now. Come out, nail those and you’ll be fine”.

‘One of my daughters got to the final of a drama recital recently. She said, “Daddy, I’m so scared”. I said, “Good, this is how you use nerves”. It gives you an edge. These are sink or swim moments in your career. 

TV regular Jenas (centre) presented the draw and spent the previous week rehearsing in Qatar

‘My heart was going like mad when I came through those doors. The responsibility of things going wrong was on me, and the world was watching.’

So, was there any cause for panic?

‘As we came out, Sam Johnson, my co-conductor, her screen crashed. She looked at me, I was like, “It’s OK, we’re cool”. I was also nervous about Bora Milutinovic (former manager). During rehearsals he was in a different world!

‘But the start is very simple – just draw the seeds, the one red ball in the pot. I went to Jay-Jay Okocha. He was swirling the balls around. I was like, “No, no, Jay-Jay, just the red ball!”. He did it again second time, “Mate, the red ball!”. But I had been into the legends dressing-room earlier. Cafu and Lothar Matthaus were practising picking balls from a pot! They genuinely cared, it reassured me.’ 

Despite several technical hitches, former footballer Jenas negated the showpiece flawlessly

The weekend before, at the Oscars, Chris Rock was slapped on stage by Will Smith.

‘Yeah, that was in my head. I was going to say at the start, “I hope everything goes well, if not I might get a slap in the face”. If I was in England, I would make that joke. But this was so global, different languages, I thought, “Let’s just stick to football”.’

His policy worked.

‘I knew there would be people on social media waiting for me to fail. I wanted to stick it to them. I’m the one who has worked hard to get here. If they want to create negativity and hate, they need to look at their own lives really and try to improve themselves.

‘So, I knew there was pressure. When I stepped onto stage, I was like, “You better deliver, mate. Don’t f*** this up”. When you come through that, there is no better feeling. 

He has admitted to Sportsmail that retired footballers still search for pressure and adrenaline

‘Afterwards, Alessandro Del Piero and Didier Drogba congratulated me. Matthaus gave me a speech. He said, “I felt so comfortable with you, this is your environment”. I was like, “Oh my God, I went to USA ’94 wearing a ‘Matthaus 10′ Inter Milan shirt”. It was such a nice moment.’

But nicer still was the phone call home.

‘My missus put the kids on, “Daddy, were you nervous?”. I said, “Yeah, really nervous, but that’s good, remember?”. Then the little one said, “I got a pupil of the week!”. It brought me right back down to earth, I needed that.’

From there, Jenas escaped the chaos and headed back to his hotel. 

After the draw, however, Jenas was unable to relax over a beer and spoke with Arsene Wenger

‘I needed to chill out with a beer. I got there and they said, “Sorry, sir, it’s Ramadan”. I ended up drinking fizzy water with Arsene Wenger! I just got myself to bed, not that I could sleep.’

Among the many messages waiting on social media was one, ‘Did you enjoy the blood money?’, referencing the deaths of immigrant workers during the construction of World Cup stadiums. Jenas understands, and shares, the concern.

‘What you hope is, by bringing the spotlight on a country, it helps bring about change. Sadly, that did not happen after Russia. They have gone the other way.

‘I understand there has been recent legislation change in Qatar. But the reality is, we are all trying to get a better understanding of what needs to change and trying to highlight that as best we can.’

Since hanging up his boots, Jenas has regularly made live appearances on Match of the Day

Jenas wonders, too, if Qatar has the infrastructure to host a World Cup. He expects much work to be done between now and November but left Doha thinking, ‘This country does not know what is about to hit it’.

He will be back as part of the BBC team and, beyond that, there has been talk of him one day inheriting the Match of the Day chair from Gary Lineker.

‘Gary’s job, whoever is next, it’s following a legend – they’re gonna get in the neck for a good couple of years!’ says Jenas. ‘But Gary is my first port of call for guidance. He did the last World Cup draw. He told me, “It’s complicated, but just take your time and you’ll be fine”.’

Jenas certainly took that advice on board.

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