He is the reason for much of the hype about the S-League this term, expected to help set the ailing competition alight, along with the former LionsXII players. But fans might just have to wait a little longer to witness former Arsenal and Liverpool player Jermaine Pennant in full flight in a competitive match.
Tampines Rovers' coach V. Sundramoorthy told The Straits Times that the league's $40,000-a-month man has just recovered from a hamstring injury and might have to contend with a place on the bench in his side's opening match against Geylang International today.
When the Stags met Mohan Bagun in an Asian Champions League qualifier last month, they struggled to create openings without Pennant in the side, eventually going down 1-3 to the Indian giants.
But Sundram insisted that he would not rush his star back into action: "He's just coming back from a hamstring injury so it depends on how he feels in terms of starting the game. He is looking much sharper and better but we must be careful."
Pennant told ST that he had suffered the injury in training last week but is certain that he will play some part in the game today.
If I do play, I will be hoping to get some assists and goals, which will be good for the team and myself.
JERMAINE PENNANT, who is hoping to contribute to Tampines' bid to land a first league title since 2013.
"It's a long season, so I don't know if the coach will want to risk me (from the start)," said the 33-year-old at a training session at the Jurong West Stadium yesterday.
"If I do play, I will be hoping to get some assists and goals, which will be good for the team and myself."
Besides his recovery, he also received a boost when his wife, British model Alice Goodwin, and daughter Esme arrived in Singapore on Saturday. They will be at the stadium tonight to catch him in action. "It's nice to have them here, and it makes me feel more settled and at home, and hopefully it will work in my favour," he said.
Last season's double Cup winners, Albirex Niigata, have already thrown down the gauntlet with a 3-2 victory over S-League champions Brunei DPMM in the Community Shield.
Tampines, the heavy title favourites who last won the S-League in 2013, will be under pressure to kick off their season with a similarly convincing performance over the Eagles tonight.
But Sundram, 50, remained calm amid the hullabaloo.
"We are excited for the season, having drafted many good players and we are ready to start the campaign," he said. "We want to have a good start but most importantly, we want to put in a good performance. If we perform well, we will get the points."
Like Tampines, Geylang have also strengthened during the off-season with some astute acquisitions like Singapore internationals Sahil Suhaimi and Gabriel Quak, and the Stags are wary of the threat that their opponents carry.
"They have many good players - Branko (Cubrilo), Sahil (Suhaimi) and (Carlos) Delgado - who can change the game and we will definitely pay close attention to them," Sundram noted.
Added last season's local top scorer Fazrul Nawaz: "It is going to be a difficult game with the quality that they have. But with the quality we have, it's up to us to have the desire and hunger to win the game."
One Stags fan could hardly contain his excitement.
Adzrami Aziz, 46, a taxi driver, said: "I will try to watch more Tampines S-League games (this season) because of Jermaine Pennant.
"I believe Tampines Rovers will win (the game against Geylang) because of Sundram, who has good tactics and is a thinking coach."