Football: Jermaine Pennant experiment draws mixed reactions

Jermaine Pennant lamented that nothing was done to build on the excitement his arrival sparked.
Jermaine Pennant lamented that nothing was done to build on the excitement his arrival sparked. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Ex-Home coach says stars will attract fans, Balestier chairman wants support for local players

Jermaine Pennant's farewell note to the S-League was simple: I cannot do it by myself.

The former Arsenal and Liverpool star joined Tampines Rovers to much fanfare, but lamented that nothing was done to build on the excitement his arrival sparked.

The inaction, Pennant said, meant even Lionel Messi's arrival would not have helped to revive the ailing league.

Members of the local football fraternity agreed with Pennant's assessment, although their opinions differed on what could have been done to capitalise on the initial buzz.

Former Home United coach Philippe Aw said more big-name signings like the former England Under-21 player would have attracted more fans to the S-League.

"If the funding was there and every club has one Pennant, it will definitely make the league more exciting. Ultimately fans want to be entertained," said Aw.

ONE STAR FOR EVERY TEAM

If the funding was there and every club has one Pennant, it will definitely make the league more exciting. Ultimately fans want to be entertained.

PHILIPPE AW, former Home United coach, showing support for each team to have a marquee player to draw fans to games.

SHORT-TERM INJECTION

Pennant scored five goals this season. How many local players have scored more than that? We got to get our basics right first in getting more local players in... make it an attractive career path for youngsters in football.

S. THAVANESON, Balestier Khalsa chairman, calling for more support for local players instead of drawing in foreign names.

The S-League considered bringing back the Marquee Player Scheme to provide subsidies for clubs to sign star players. But it is understood that notion fizzled out after a lack of interest from clubs.

Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra said: "The scheme creates a consistent delivery of excitement, but sadly the clubs, the league administrators and sponsors all dropped the ball on it - we must all take responsibility for not building on from the initial jump start we had.

"Let's learn from it and do it better, collectively as stakeholders."

A look at regional countries suggests more high-profile signings could give leagues a boost.

Japan, Thailand and Australia, which all have thriving domestic football scenes, were helped by the signing of star players in the leagues' nascent years.

Brazilian Zico and English striker Gary Lineker, were some of the big names that helped launch Japan's J.League.

The Chinese Super League is undergoing a similar transformation now, with clubs splashing more cash on big names than many European clubs to draw more fans.

However, Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson disagreed, calling star players like Pennant "short-term injections".

He said: "Pennant scored five goals this season. How many local players have scored more than that? We got to get our basics right first in getting more local players in... make it an attractive career path for youngsters in football."

There were also those who felt the the S-League was not an attractive proposition to begin with.

Hougang United chairman Bill Ng praised Tampines for bringing an exciting player to the league.

But he added: "Unfortunately, like what Pennant said, no matter who you bring in because the Football Association of Singapore doesn't understand that the S-League is not a brand yet."

Ng said the S-League needs to be a marketable product with a good reach, otherwise all moves for star players will be futile.

Meanwhile, S-League chief executive officer Lim Chin, remained optimistic for next season.

He told The Straits Times: "This has indeed been one of the best S-League seasons in recent years. There was an approximate 25 per cent increase in average match attendance this year, with over 3,500 fans watching the Home United vs Tampines Rovers match at Bishan Stadium in March."

While he hailed the arrival of Pennant, Lim confirmed that the marquee player scheme is no longer in effect and clubs should sign players that fit their budgets.

• Additional reporting by Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Pennant experiment draws mixed reactions'. Print Edition | Subscribe