Manchester United were spoiled for central midfielders back in 2002.
Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Juan Sebastian Veron were at the club, and it would have taken something special for an 18-year-old to get a game ahead of such players.
Which is why Jermaine Jenas probably made the right choice in turning down the opportunity to go Old Trafford in February 2002, signing instead for Newcastle United from Nottingham Forest.
The retired midfielder has revealed that he found the offer from United “weird”, and claims he doesn’t regret not joining the team who had won three Premier League titles in a row.
“I sat down with my manager (at Forest), he called me in on my day off, and he basically just went: ‘Look, we’ve had three offers in for you. Leeds have offered £5m, Newcastle £5m and Man United £3m,” Jenas told The Daily Star.
“I thought that was weird, but basically he said: ‘(Alex) Ferguson thinks it’s an honour to play for the club, therefore he’s only offering £3m.’ I think they were kind of only doing the deal because I was hot property at the time – not because he genuinely wanted me.
“At United they were saying: ‘We’ll develop you and you’ve got all these star players to train with.’ But I didn’t want that. I wanted to be playing.”
Jenas would go on to play over 150 times for Newcastle, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year in 2003, before joining Tottenham Hotspur in 2005. He also revealed how he dodged a bullet by choosing Newcastle over Leeds United, who would go into financial meltdown and get relegated from the Premier League in 2004.
“Bobby (Robson, the then Newcastle manager) didn’t stop ringing my phone – and David O’Leary was ringing me. So it was kind of like, which way do I go?
“Leeds were Champions League at the time, they had (Rio) Ferdinand, (Robbie) Keane, (Robbie) Fowler and so on – and it was closer to home. But my agent said: ‘You can’t go to Leeds. It’s going to fall apart. I promise you it’s not good there.’
“Once I’d got to St James’ Park, the minute I pulled up to the stadium, I’d decided I wasn’t going anywhere else. It felt like the right place to be – and Bobby (Robson) just sold it to me by making sure I knew I was going to be playing. I could have said no, gone to United and you might never have seen me.”
“I might have gone into the reserves, got paid loads of good money and just been comfortable. I might not have been able to break through into that unbelievable United team of [Roy] Keane, [Nicky] Butt and [Paul] Scholes. I could have just gone missing.”
In fairness to Jenas, who retired from football earlier this year following a persistent knee-injury, he probably made the right choice.