Melbourne City’s former Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson speaks to KEEPUP’s Sacha Pisani about winning a first league title, eyeing history, life in Australia and more.
Like Carl Jenkinson says, he has an FA Cup medal on his resume but it’s how he got there that is driving the Englishman’s desire for more silverware on Saturday night.
Jenkinson was part of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team that hoisted the historic trophy aloft at Wembley in 2014, overcoming Hull City 3-2 after extra time.
The key word in that sentence, though – part. On Arsenal’s path to the final, Jenkinson started in the fourth round and last 16 against Coventry City and Liverpool. But he was an unused substitute in the dramatic semi-final penalty shoot-out with Wigan Athletic, while he was not in the squad for the FA Cup decider.
That’s why Saturday’s Isuzu UTE A-League Grand Final against Western United means so much more for the Melbourne City star.
The one-time England international stands on the cusp of something he has never achieved before – league glory. While City already have the Premiers Plate in the bag, it’s the Championship that counts.
And more importantly for Jenkinson, he feels a “big part” of City’s success in Melbourne.
Speaking to KEEPUP, Jenkinson said: “I won the FA Cup and it’s on my resume. I played the early rounds… It got to the semis and final and lets say the big boys came back in and played the final. At the time I was second choice.
“Yeah I won the FA Cup but did I feel a big part of it? Not really is the truth. Whereas here, I’ve played a big part since I’ve arrived this season. Lifting the Premiers Plate, it felt fantastic because I knew I contributed a lot to the team and played my part.
“From a personal perspective, it would be an amazing thing to lift the Championship. I’ve played a part in in, so I’ll really feel like I’ve won it if we go and do it.
“It would be massive for me. I’ve come to the other side of the world to play football, so what better way to go back than with two medals around your neck and say you won the league and championship. I’d be really proud of that.”
The Isuzu UTE A-League Finals is a foreign concept for Jenkinson. Aside from the play-offs for promotion in the United Kingdom, he’s never experienced anything like it before.
“It’s exciting and gets fans on seats as well because it’s a good spectacle when it’s done this way,” he added. “I completely understand the idea behind. I’ve enjoyed it.
“When you have semi-finals and finals, they’re exciting games to play in. You get good crowds and the atmosphere is good. I’m looking forward to it.
“We finished top of the league, which I feel we can all be proud of as a team but obviously the main one now is to win the championship. It’s certainly different but I don’t mind it.”
That iconic 2012 photo and landing in Australia
Arsenal were set to usher in a new era of greatness in 2012, led by a British core of talent.
Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They were the homegrown crew pictured with legendary manager Wenger in that iconic photo a decade ago.
But it didn’t go according to plan. Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain farewelled Arsenal in 2017 and Wilshere the following year, while Jenkinson and Ramsey departed the Gunners in 2019.
Football is a crazy game. Jenkinson now finds himself in Australia – on loan for Premier League hopefuls Nottingham Forest.
“If I’m honest, I always thought I’d play abroad. In my head, I needed to do something different, especially when I got to my mid-20s,” Jenkinson replied when asked if he ever thought he’d be in Australia after that 2012 photo.
“All my family and friends are in England and it’s given me a great career but I always wanted to see what’s on the other side. Obviously coming to Australia, I literally did do that.
“I did always have in my mind that I wanted to play abroad, so I was going to make that happen one way or another. No matter where it was because I just wanted to have that experience, not just football experience but also a life experience.
“I was delighted when it came about, this is perfect, exactly what I needed and wanted at the time. I’d be lying if I said I thought I’d be coming to Australia like five years ago or so. But I’m delighted I have.”
Jenkinson was unveiled by City in January, with the defending champions turning to the ex-Arsenal and West Ham defender following the departure of star Nathaniel Atkinson.
The 30-year-old wanted a fresh start after slipping down the pecking order at Forest in the Championship, and former City boss Warren Joyce was instrumental in teeing up the switch Down Under.
“I think he could see at [Forest] training I still had a lot to offer and put my name forward to PK [Patrick Kisnorbo],” said Jenkinson, who hailed Kisnorbo for wearing his heart on his sleeve.
“It happened pretty quickly in January. It’s crazy it’s gone so quick. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a great experience on and off the pitch.
“I’ve loved playing with the lads. It’s a fantastic team. Met a great group of lads, which you don’t always walk into as a player. Not a bad word to say about all of it. It’s been brilliant.”
A Melbourne City dynasty?
Patrick Kisnorbo’s City are on the verge of unprecedented glory in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
No team in the history of the competition have claimed the Premiership-Championship double in back-to-back seasons. City can change that on Saturday night in Melbourne.
City’s Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren talked of a “dynasty” in the aftermath of the team’s semi-final victory over Adelaide United last week.
“I think you want to be as successful as you can as a team,” Jenkinson said. “A long the way if that turns out to be creating history that hasn’t been made before or a dynasty, then fantastic.
“I personally don’t want to get too caught up in it. We have a final on Saturday and that’s a game in itself and a sole thing to focus on. That’s a big enough challenge.
“It will obviously be amazing. There’s a reason it hasn’t been done two seasons in a row because it’s a difficult thing to do. That’s kind of my point. We have a big challenge in front of us to win this championship. If it creates history in the process, fantastic.”
For all of City’s success – back-to-back Premierships and a maiden AFC Champions League appearance this season – a lot has been made of their form against top-four teams.
Before taking down Adelaide 2-1 after extra time, City had not beaten a top-four side in the ALM this term – Melbourne Victory (second), Western (third) or Adelaide (fourth) fixtures yielding six draws and four defeats prior to the second leg against the Reds.
Kisnorbo labelled the commentary disrespectful on the back of his team hoisting another Premiers Plate aloft, while Maclaren was prickly in response to City’s record against Grand Final opponents Western.
Western are in the midst of a four-match unbeaten run versus City, a streak dating back to last season.
“We just need our boys to stand up again,” Maclaren told reporters. “We love the big games. No matter how many questions you want to say about not beating this or not beating that, but we will just keep our heads down and go to Saturday.”
So, what does Jenkinson think?
“It certainly don’t affect me or the lads,” he said. “Everyone was saying before the last game and we go and beat Adelaide. That one is put to bed.
“I think you can bring up records on every team, they haven’t done this or that. It’s a way of writing a headline I suppose. No one really wants to say we finished top of the league, won the Premiers Plate, and we beaten this team and that team.
“The story is and was before the last game, we hadn’t beaten top-four team. That’s fine, that’s what people want to write about then no problem.
“We put that one to bed in the last game. Obviously we haven’t beaten Western this season and that’s a fact. We’re playing them on Saturday and that’s what matters now. Not what’s happened in games gone by.”
The future for Jenkinson
The move to Melbourne appears to have been the perfect tonic for Jenkinson.
He was out of favour at Steve Cooper’s Forest, but the veteran is back performing and doing what he loves.
Jenkinson has two goals in 21 ALM appearances this season – his first senior league strikes since 2015-16 with West Ham. He also scored once during City’s AFC Champions League group-stage campaign.
However, Jenkinson’s contract with Forest is due to expire and he is set to become a free agent.
Will we see him back in a City shirt next term?
“I really don’t know,” he said. “My agent has been on the phone to me over the past month, what do you want to do? Told me of interest from clubs.
“I’ve sort of just said, I just want to concentrate on finishing the season and doing it well. Hopefully winning a Championship and I’ll think about my future after. For me, it’s about this team I’m playing in right now and the boys I’ve gone on this journey with. I want to finish it on a high.
“What happens after, I honestly don’t know. It’s been so intense the last three or four months with all the games, I’m kind of looking forward to heading back to England to see my family and friends, and having a little holiday. Having some time away to reflect and also think about what I’m going to do moving forward.”