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How will this former Liverpool winger fit into football in South-east Asia?

Liverpool

How will this former Liverpool winger fit into football in South-east Asia?

Now that the dust has settled on Jermaine Pennant’s arrival into Singapore football, we can examine the situation in detail. Having sealed his spanking one-year S$40k-a-month contract with Tampines Rovers, all eyes will now turn to the impact Pennant will have for The Stags and the local league as a whole.

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Pennant has managed to attract such media coverage for football never before seen on this cosmopolitan island city. The (almost over) enthusiasm to Pennant’s arrival is in itself revealing of the state of Singapore football. He isn’t a Ronaldinho, and his popularity is not even close to former Liverpool team-mate and recent A-League arrival Luis Garcia. However, as most already know, he was once the most expensive teenager in English football when he signed for current Premier League title-hopefuls Arsenal in 1999.

Pennant failed to secure a first-team spot under Arsene Wenger and promptly moved to Birmingham City, where his performances somehow secured him another chance at a big club, this time Liverpool. His form at Anfield was inconsistent, but he did shine for Rafa Benitez’s side in the Champions League final defeat in 2007. After the spell Merseyside however, Pennant’s career was one of a journeyman, with stints at Portsmouth, Stoke City, Spain’s Real Zaragoza, Indian side FC Pune City and most recently Wigan Athletic of the English second tier.

Much has been made of Pennant’s personal life during the past decade, with several indiscretions blighting what was once a future England international star. However, his move to Singapore, apparently after rejecting overtures from more glamorous Asian leagues in Korea and Australia as well as accepting a 70% pay cut, could possibly show that this is more than just a PR move for Pennant and/or Singapore’s Football Association.

The Nottingham-born winger is the highest paid player in S.League history, with the figure seeming astronomical to most Singaporeans. However taken in relative terms, it is around £5k a week, which is peanuts considering the amount he usually earned in Europe; even at his last club Wigan, and what he could have secured in Australia or Korea. Clearly money is not the motivation for him, and Singapore’s football fraternity will hope Pennant’s motivations are positive in that he truly wishes to improve the league and provide it with more exposure on the international stage.

The $40,ooo a month salary would certainly look worthwhile if Pennant could attract fellow veterans with similarly decent; if not better, reputations to Singapore’s shores. But that remains a distant optimistic dream and in the immediate future; such as the next 12 months, Pennant will hope to be to Singapore’s S.League what David Beckham was for America’s Major League Soccer, though obviously to a much lesser effect.

 

Coupled with the return of the nation’s best talents to the local league in the form of ex-LionsXII stars, the extended media coverage over Pennant’s arrival will hopefully boost the initial attendance of S.League matches, not just for Tampines but across the country, giving the league and clubs a chance to show off the improved quality of their football.

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Even at 33, Pennant may be getting on in terms of age for most European leagues, but he should still have the quality and fitness to perform to a high standard in such a low-level league. Pennant needs to produce displays that maintain the initial media coverage and retain supporter interest past the first few league games. In terms of statistics, Pennant needs to deliver a combined total of 20 assists and goals in my opinion – a reasonable minimum expectation across 27 league matches.

Tampines Rovers will also be banking on Pennant’s brief experience in Indian football to help The Stags get past the first play-off round of the Asian Champions League (ACL) against Indian League champions Mohun Bagan. As it will be highly unlikely for Tampines to reach the ACL proper with potential ties against Shandong Luneng of China and Adelaide United of Australia, the most realistic expectation would be for a Pennant-led Tampines to merely reach the next play-off round.

As an experienced veteran, many will hope that Pennant leads by example and perhaps even assist in the development of some of Tampines Rovers’ young guns, especially the new signings from LionsXII. In particular, Rovers manager V. Sundramoorthy will look to Pennant to help mentor the likes of Christopher Van Huizen, who is a winger himself.

Only time will tell if the Pennant experiment does reinvigorate the S.League, but one thing is for certain, the signing of Pennant is a positive move in the right direction for the S.League. Pennant’s acquisition demonstrates how a club can work with its commercial partners to secure high-profile players. Tampines Rovers and its sponsors should be held up as an example for the rest of the S.League, as more of such marquee players are required at every team in order to truly reignite interest in the local football scene at least for the short term.


Featured Image: All rights reserved by Federico Mera

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