Football: Pennant looking to start over in Singapore

Former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant having his first training with S-league club Tampines Rovers.
Former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant having his first training with S-league club Tampines Rovers. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

He regrets failing at Arsenal most, says he has no issues about S-League's humble settings

Three days ago, Jermaine Pennant stepped into Changi Airport's arrival hall with a white suitcase and a black haversack. But as the jovial footballer would admit, he was arriving with far more baggage, amassed from a dubious past.

Back in England, the former Arsenal and Liverpool winger had carved a reputation as a party-going footballer, known more for his flings with topless models than his sporting exploits.

When he met The Sunday Times yesterday, Pennant, whose mother died when he was three, certainly looked the part, draped in tattoos and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a woman smoking a joint.

Yet, in a revealing half-hour interview at the Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium, Pennant, who grew up in a rough neighbourhood in Nottingham, was keen to highlight that his troubled past was behind him.

The 32-year-old readily took on questions about his past transgressions and admitted that he had failed to handle the riches and fame that comes with playing in the English Premier League.

Reflecting on his chequered past, the former England Under-21 player, who is here for a trial with S-League side Tampines Rovers, said: "When you're not playing, you get frustrated, and with the money and the distractions, that's when you can go off the rails and take a different path.

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF

It's about... trying to be normal and being a good role model... If you try to find any bad news about me it'll be all from (the past).''

JERMAINE PENNANT, on how footballers will always be in the spotlight.

"No one taught me that, no one advised me, so I had to learn the hard way.

"There are definitely some regrets. If I knew how it could affect me, where it'd lead to in the bigger picture, then 100 per cent I'd have changed certain things."

Known for his speed, skill, and creativity, Pennant, who never won a senior cap for the Three Lions, added: "In hindsight I wish I could've avoided it and maybe I could've played for England as well."

The father of two also blamed the British media for his reputation as a bad boy, a tag that still sticks.

He said: "The media in England is very harsh in general, not just on me.

"Obviously (being a footballer) comes with a lot of attention in the public eye. Kids look up to you as role models. It's about getting that balance, trying to be normal and being a good role model.

"I'm definitely better at that now. If you try to find any bad news about me it'll be all from (the past)."

While his last appearance in the EPL came more than two years ago for Stoke City, Pennant is still on the radar of the British media, with newspapers The Guardian and Daily Mail carrying news of his potential move to Singapore.

Laughing, Pennant said: "Maybe they just want to keep following me in case something happens and they've got a big story. They can keep trying but it's not going to come."

His troubled career saw him spend 30 days in prison for drink-driving in 2005, wear an electronic tag during matches while on parole, and fined by his clubs for showing up late for training.

Yet, of all his troubles, the lowest point, Pennant said, was not making the cut at Arsenal, whom he joined as a 15-year-old for £2 million (S$4.19 million), a record fee for a trainee then. "I could've really achieved more at Arsenal if I got a bit more chances," he said. "I really enjoyed my time there... and it was sad to leave. That was also when I started to get into trouble. "

This is the same player who scored a hat-trick on his full EPL debut for Arsenal.

Another highlight came in 2007 when he played the full 90 minutes in Liverpool's 1-2 Champions League final loss to AC Milan.

Perhaps to stress his new outlook, Pennant said he has had no problems adapting to Singapore football, even if it is a far cry from the upper echelons of English football.

"I've gone from walking into the changing room with my kit, socks and towel all folded up to washing my own training kit and bringing my own towel. But it's not a problem. I'm a grown man, I can wash my kit if I have to," he said.

"When you come into a different culture, you have to respect it. I like to experience new things."

There is an infamous tale of Pennant leaving his Porsche outside a train station in Spain and only getting a friend to pick it up weeks later.

But the days of owning many flashy cars are behind him.

Now, Pennant and his model wife Alice Goodwin share the more family-friendly Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz CLA. Previously, he was behind the wheel of supercars such as a Ferrari with a personalised number plate and a chrome-coloured Aston Martin.

He said: "Them race-car days are past. I enjoyed them, don't get me wrong, but now it's all about getting from A to B."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Pennant looking to start over in S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe