Football: Tampines Rovers pin S-League hopes on 'wild' ex-Arsenal man Jermaine Pennant

Jermaine Pennant in action for Liverpool, with whom he reached the Champions League final. However, he was released by the Reds after three years.
Jermaine Pennant in action for Liverpool, with whom he reached the Champions League final. However, he was released by the Reds after three years.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Former EPL winger to undergo trial, with his disciplinary issues under the spotlight

Jermaine Pennant, part wild child, part football whizz, could thrill S-League spectators in the upcoming season, having agreed to undergo a trial at five-time league champions Tampines Rovers.

Known for his trickery and pace on the flanks, as well as his off-the-field troubles, the winger will arrive by Thursday and could take part in his first training session before the week is over.

If he does put pen to paper, the former Arsenal and Liverpool player would be one of the biggest names to grace the S-League.

Yesterday, Krishna Ramachandra, chairman of the league runners-up, said: "He (Pennant) will be in Singapore later this week. The decision to sign him will be made jointly by the club management based on the recommendation of head coach V. Sundramoorthy."

Ramachandra added that Pennant will be judged based on his suitability to the club's style of play, as well as whether he can complement the existing squad of players.

Geylang International striker Indra Sahdan welcomed the potential move but cautioned the Englishman not to expect the local league to be a piece of cake.

NOT AN EASY TASK

Hopefully everything goes well for him, because he can help improve the league's standards, but he has to work hard and stay humble. The S-League will not be a walk in the park.''

INDRA SAHDAN DAUD, former Singapore international player, on Jermaine Pennant

He said: "It's good that Tampines have attracted such a big name but let's not expect too much yet. We have seen World Cup players who came here but did not do so well.

"Hopefully everything goes well for him, because he can help improve the league's standards, but he has to work hard and stay humble. The S-League will not be a walk in the park."

But Tampines winger Christopher van Huizen is keen to link up with Pennant, saying: "It's exciting news, because he's a dangerous and experienced player.

"If he were to make the cut, there would be more competition for places, but I'm looking forward to learning from him. I think he will help bring up the standard of the S-League."

However, any potential deal will be a short-term one initially, for the player to prove himself here.

Ramachandra added that the deal also hinges on subsidies from the Football Association of Singapore, with nine members of the disbanded LionsXII side already on the club's payroll.

Pennant, who will turn 33 on Jan 15, last played for Wigan Athletic in English football's second tier, scoring three goals in 13 appearances. Before that, he played in the Indian Super League for Pune City and had a trial with Thai Premier League club Muangthong United in 2014 but no deal materialised.

  • Five big names who played in S-League

    Grant Holt

    (Sengkang Marine, 2001)

    The Englishman spent four months playing for Sengkang Marine in 2002, where he scored 12 goals in 14 games.

    He went on to play for Norwich in the English Premier League, scoring 15 goals in his first season in the EPL.

    Mohammad Khakpour (Geylang, 1996)

    The Iranian defender arrived with compatriot Hamid Reza Estili for the S-League's inaugural season in 1996.

    Both lit up the league with their obvious quality. They went on to represent Iran at the 1998 World Cup.

    Kazuyuki Toda (Warriors FC, 2013)

    Japan World Cup player Kazuyuki Toda arrived with a huge reputation, but injuries and a lack of match fitness saw him struggle in his solitary season with the Warriors.

    The former Tottenham midfielder retired from professional football after the 2013 S-League season.

    Emile M'bouh M'bouh (Tiong Bahru FC, 1997)

    Another World Cup player who flattered to deceive was Emile M'bouh M'bouh. The midfielder was part of the Cameroon team that stunned an Argentina side featuring Diego Maradona 1-0 at the 1990 World Cup.

    He was sacked by Tiong Bahru after one season for failing to live up to expectations.

    Niklas Sandberg (Warriors FC, 2010)

    Capped twice by Sweden, the defender joined Warriors FC (then Singapore Armed Forces FC) with an impressive resume, having won league titles in the top divisions of Romania and Norway.

    He left less than six months into a two-year contract, citing personal reasons.

While he showed initial promise when he first appeared on the English Premier League scene, his career had followed a downward trajectory after a promising start.

In 1999, he made headlines after joining Arsenal as a 15-year-old in a deal worth £2 million (S$4.19 million), a record fee for a trainee.

Four years later, Pennant served notice of his potential, scoring a hat-trick against Southampton on his full league debut.

However, dogged by disciplinary problems off the pitch, such as turning up late for training, and frequent brushes with the law, it has been downhill since for the former England Under-21 player.

After leaving Arsenal in 2005, he has played for eight clubs without realising his potential.

In 2005, while contracted to Birmingham City, he served 30 days in prison for drink-driving while still under a driving ban.

A brief revival at Liverpool followed, where he reached the Champions League final. But he was released by the Reds after three years, and, following spells at Portsmouth, Spanish side Real Zaragoza, and Stoke City, Pennant found himself in India with Pune, where he lasted just seven games.

Ramachandra said he is aware of Pennant's disciplinary issues, but added: "We need to give every player a second chance. We will make sure discipline is maintained at the club, but I won't write off a player because of what he has done in the past."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Stags pin hopes on 'wild' pennant'. Print Edition | Subscribe