SINGAPORE - If the signing of Jermaine Pennant was a statement of intent from Tampines Rovers, that narrative has quietened down to a whimper as the S-League season draws to a close.
The Stags, who will face the Garena Young Lions at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening (Oct 15), gave the clearest indication their marquee signing will leave after just one season as the club's chairman Krishna Ramachandra stands firm on cutting costs by reducing wages.
Once Singapore football's big spenders under former chairman Teo Hock Seng - who is said to have used $2 million of his own money to fund the club in the previous 15 years - the new regime under Krishna is about belt tightening.
With the club planning to drastically slash their wage bill by offering players a monthly salary of $2,500 next year, it is hard to see the top-earning Englishman, who is on $20,000 a month, accepting the new terms.
Krishna said: "It's a question of how much we can afford financially. There's no point continuing at this level when we cannot sustain ourselves financially.
"We've learnt a lot from this year on how to manage the club's finances and revenues. For the next season, I don't want the players to be distracted by financial matters, (thinking) where is the money coming from."
When asked how likely it was that Pennant will stay at the club, the lawyer replied: "I wouldn't rule that (Pennant leaving) out.
"All the players will be offered a role and a job, but it's for them to see if they would want to accept the package that we have presented to them. I hope that by tightening our belts, it would make sure everyone can (keep) their jobs."
Another push factor for a potential exodus is the removal of win bonuses at the club this year. In previous seasons, Tampines players were given win bonuses ranging from $300-$500, depending on the opponent, and $100 for a draw.
An unnamed Tampines player said: "There isn't any additional motivation for us. With the match bonuses, if you put $400-$500 there for the taking, it makes the players feel that it is a significant deal."
Krishna said: "We've given them bonuses as stated in their contracts, but we never had a match incentive this season."
Pennant, a former Arsenal and Liverpool player, is the biggest name to have graced the S-League. During a pre-season friendly against Hougang, an unprecedented 1,200 fans were in attendance.
Two months into this season, interest in the S-League spiked with much of the credit due to his presence. Average match attendance increased by 57 per cent as crowd figures as of April were 2,048, up from 1,302 last season.
But attendances waned again as the Stags floundered in their quest for four trophies.
Only the RHB Singapore Cup remains within reach as they face league champions Albirex Niigata in the final on Oct 29.
Pennant declined comment but the winger's close friend, team-mate Billy Mehmet, is shuffling close to the exit door.
Like Pennant, the Londoner is also playing in his first season here and has scored 18 goals for the Stags in all competitions.
Mehmet revealed that he is considering overseas offers and is unlikely to stay on for another season.