Hoping to have Beckham's effect

Top and above: Pennant celebrating Tampines' second goal, which was scored by Shakir Hamzah, last night. Moments earlier, the Englishman had provided the looping cross for Shakir to score. Right: The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger proved a hit w
Above: Pennant celebrating Tampines' second goal, which was scored by Shakir Hamzah, last night. Moments earlier, the Englishman had provided the looping cross for Shakir to score. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Top and above: Pennant celebrating Tampines' second goal, which was scored by Shakir Hamzah, last night. Moments earlier, the Englishman had provided the looping cross for Shakir to score. Right: The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger proved a hit w
Above: Pennant celebrating Tampines' second goal, which was scored by Shakir Hamzah, last night. Moments earlier, the Englishman had provided the looping cross for Shakir to score. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Top and above: Pennant celebrating Tampines' second goal, which was scored by Shakir Hamzah, last night. Moments earlier, the Englishman had provided the looping cross for Shakir to score. Right: The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger proved a hit w
Above: The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger proved a hit with fans, with some 2,000 turning up at Jalan Besar Stadium for the Stags' pre-season friendly against Hougang. Several fans took photos with him.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Jermaine Pennant hopes he can achieve in Singapore what David Beckham did when he joined American Major League Soccer (MLS) team the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The former English Premier League (EPL) star, in Singapore for a trial with Tampines Rovers, is inspired by the former England captain's success in promoting football in the United States and wants to make a similar impact in the S-League.

Having caused a buzz since his arrival, Pennant, who turns 33 this Friday, hopes to carry on the momentum.

The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger said: "Beckham went to LA Galaxy at a time when football wasn't that big in the US. He opened the door for more foreign stars, and the MLS has got bigger since.

"It will be great if I can have the sort of impact he had in America."

Beckham moved to the US in 2007, and was credited with increasing the MLS' visibility in a sports market traditionally dominated by the National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball.

His arrival sparked a steady influx of Europe-based stars such as Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, Didier Drogba, and Steven Gerrard.

Having heard from Football Association of Singapore and Tampines officials about how the S-League thrived in its opening years two decades ago, Pennant said: "I want to put the love back into Singapore football.

"If I can open the floodgates to more EPL players coming, maybe more Singaporeans will support local teams because former EPL players are here.

"If I can do that, help the league and the players, then great. It's a big responsibility but I'm relishing it."

Money might be a stumbling block though. Pennant's last-drawn weekly wage was £25,000 (S$52,590) at English third-tier club Wigan and S-League clubs seldom pay more than $10,000 monthly for foreign signings.

But he has insisted repeatedly in interviews since his arrival that he is willing to take a pay cut and negotiate with the Stags. It is believed the player also paid for his flight from Dubai to underscore his determination to play in Singapore.

And instead of getting VIP treatment, his hotel is the affordable Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium and he washes his own football kit. There is no limousine driving him around town, just a Subaru Forester. There were no superstar airs during training as he was seen helping the Tampines players carry the goalposts.

And yesterday, Pennant tweeted a humorous episode of an encounter in Singapore: "A fan wanted an autograph today then fainted. Staff took care of him then he regained consciousness, got a selfie with me then off he went.

"So whoever you are hope everything good and if you come to the game tonight you will be cool and no need for the medics again."

Yesterday, the speedy winger got his first taste of Singapore football as he played the entire second half of a friendly against Hougang United. In front of almost 2,000 fans at Jalan Besar Stadium, he showed off his close control, composure and eye for a killer pass, drifting in from the left wing to wreak havoc.

He also provided a looping cross for Shakir Hamzah to score the Stags' second goal with an overhead kick in a 2-0 win.

After the game, the former England Under-21 player was mobbed by fans all the way to the Tampines dressing room and more fans waited to catch a glimpse of him outside the stadium.

Clearly pleased with his performance, a beaming Pennant said: "It went well. It's never easy on an artificial turf, I got an assist, which was nice, and what a great finish."

Tampines coach V. Sundramoorthy said: "He was comfortable on the ball, created space with his dribbles and had some good through passes.

"It was a positive performance, especially since he hasn't played with the team before."

The Stags go on a training tour of Malaysia this Friday, and Pennant said: "Hopefully I get to go on the training tour, play more games with the team and do even better."

Chua Siang Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Hoping to have Beckham's effect'. Print Edition | Subscribe