In terms of transfer news, China have dominated the headlines recently. However, another transfer to the S-League certainly caught the attention of quite a few football fans. Rahul Warrier has a look at what Jermaine Pennant’s move to Tampines Rovers means for all the parties involved.
The Singaporean League, or S-League in short, pales massively in comparison to the riches of the Premier League and mega-clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool who have a huge fanbase here. The quality of pitches is sub-standard, the quality of football poor, and is nothing compared to Europe. And yet a could-have-been star of the previous decade has been attracted to Singapore. Jermaine Pennant, whom Arsenal paid 2 million pounds for at 15, a record fee for a trainee at the time, has signed for Tampines Rovers, suddenly sparking a burst of interest in a league that has suffered considerably in recent years.
Yet with the disbanding of the Lions XII team that was successful in the few years they plied their trade in the neighbouring Malaysian League, the S-League has gotten a sudden boost, and Pennant has given the league a renewed profile. With former Blackburn manager Steve Kean in the S-League for a few years now, it is heartening to see that the S-League can attract players from Europe, even with the obvious caveat of Pennant being nowhere near European class anymore. But in a league starved of entertainment and star quality, Pennant has the pressure of expectations on his shoulders.
Fans expect him to enthrall, to thrill with silky skills. However they must realise that while Pennant may seem like the Messi of this league, he is far from it. An ageing winger, he is unlikely to bang in 20 goals or bag himself a number of assists. What he does bring is star quality, on and off pitch. Many will flock to the stadiums (at least more than what normally do- stadium entrance fees are next to free) to watch Pennant play, and this writer will too. For all of his criticisms, he has ticked the right boxes so far, and while you can’t read too much into scripted statements made post-transfer, he seems interested enough to play here.
The marriage between Tampines and Pennant seems unusual, but it has taken sacrifices on both sides. Pennant has had to undergo the standard fitness test, which to his credit he did not complain about. He has had to adjust heavily in terms of everything, but he has. Settling into Singapore should not be too hard given the high standard of living here, though. On the other hand, Tampines are paying Pennant a record fee, what they don’t normally do for other players. Sponsors had to step in to absorb the rest of the cost. This shows the extent to which both player and club have gone to make this happen.
When those with European pedigree move to the Far East (or Asia in general), it is usually due to the money on offer. But in this case there is no such thing. Pennant has taken a massive wage cut from what he earned at his last club Wigan. He’s taken a gamble, but a calculated one, for he has fallen so far from the top that at 33 there was no chance he would be taken by any decent club in Europe. This is only logical, given his age and injury problems. It is a positive move taken from Pennant, who undoubtedly knows how he could be the catalyst for Singaporean football.
For a league that has nothing to lose, the capture of Pennant appears to be a win-win situation. Pennant has brought attention and publicity to the league itself. British media sites have been covering Pennant’s move, and as a result it has helped to spread some understanding of what the S-League was, a question people may have been asking earlier. That question undoubtedly still exists, but to a lesser degree. The S-League remains an unknown quantity, and many may be wondering why Pennant has chosen to step into murky waters. But it isn’t as surprising as Ramires’ move to Jiangsu Suning a few days ago. Even though Wigan was his last club, and he hasn’t played for many months, Pennant is still pretty good, speaking in relative terms.
His wealth of experience can well benefit many of the youngsters dreaming of donning the national colours, or a move to Europe. A Singaporean plying their trade in Europe could be a reality one day. The legendary Fandi Ahmad once played for Groningen, while Izwan Mahbud may have moved to Real Soceidad if Moyes had not been sacked. Safuwan Baharudin, the most likely to move there now, has played for Manchester City’s sister club, Melbourne City. It is a dream now, but a possible reality in a few years.
The fact that Tampines had a chance to make the AFC Champions League this year no doubt appealed to Pennant. After all, while the AFC version cannot stand to the UEFA version, not many footballers have played in both. Unfortunately, Pennant could not be registered for the qualifier against Mohun Bagun as they crashed out in the qualifiers losing 3-1, which is a disappointment, but they have still made the AFC Cup, which is the Europa League equivalent of Asia. They could still do well there.
Tampines have invested a lot on Pennant. Money does not flow freely in the S-League. But still they have invested time and finance in getting Pennant over to the S-League. He needs to repay them back. If he does so, Singaporean football will be highly benefitted. For now, we can wait in intrigue for the first game of the season to watch what could be an enthralling season for Pennant and Tampines.
Written by Rahul Warrier
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