It seems that we’re going to see another high profile name from the English Premier League ply his trade in the Indian Super League. Jermaine Pennant is going to be replacing the combative midfielder from Colombia, Omar Andres Rodriguez Martinez who only played one game for the team from the city of students, FC Pune City. Jermaine Pennant, for me, is ‘the almost man’. I call him ‘the almost man’ simply because his playing is littered with situations where he ‘almost’ excelled.
Jermaine Pennant, The Almost Man
Pennant, an English National, shot to fame at a very young age when Arsenal snapped him up from Notts County in the year of 1999. At the time, the fee that Wenger paid for Pennant was the record fee ever for a trainee. Pennant was only 15 years old. Arsene Wenger made a mistake big time with this signing. Even with his soft but highly effective method of bringing up young players, he couldn’t really inculcate the right values in Pennant who let his fame go to this head.
His age, I think, was the actual problem. Pennant was too young for that kind of fame. At the time of his transfer, Pennant was being touted as the next David Beckham in many English quarters. And that, unfortunately, instead of being a milestone ends up being a millstone if you don’t have a strong personality and a firm personality core to handle all the hullaballoo.
The First Almost
Being highly rated, Pennant clinched his first game for Arsenal only a year after his transfer. Unfortunately, that’s also when the problems began. Pennant had a series of disciplinary issues and fallouts with Wenger, most of which were chalked off as a result of him feeling homesick or not getting enough game time. Jermaine Pennant went through the next 6-7 years at Arsenal without making a significant impact.
I remember seeing him play for the team I support but I wasn’t impressed that much because he reminded me of the traditional English winger. He would’ve suited better with Manchester United who had a wing based style of play then than with Arsenal. The Gunners were even then trying to achieve Wenger’s dream of perfect football of small triangles and one touch passing. It’s worth noting that about the time that Pennant was struggling for Arsenal, Robert Pires shone to become an Arsenal star. In fact, Pires was brought to the club in the same year that Pennant made his debut for the team i.e. 2000. The first ‘Almost’.
The Second Almost
Wenger, finally, tiring of not seeing any improvement from Pennant decided to loan him to Birmingham (a team with considerable Indian following I might add) where Pennant again showed glimpses of brilliance. This was Pennant’s second ‘almost’ because, within a period of one year, Pennant chose to blow it all away by drinking and driving (he didn’t have insurance and his licence was also expired at the time).
He was given jail time of about 3 months. His Manager and Chairman, even then, chose to support him. Pennant was released a month later on the condition that he wear an electronic tracker at all times. Jermaine Pennant ended up playing his next game against Tottenham Hotspurs wearing that tracker.
The Third Almost
Pennant spent one more season with Birmingham before which he was signed on a permanent contract. His form was indifferent and his team were relegated to the Championship. Subsequently, Liverpool bid for Pennant and signed him on a mega four year deal. The next 3 years will easily be the most successful period in Pennant’s playing career in which he played for a high profile team, showed form, and even gained recognition from the fans and the media.
Then, another impulsive decision caused another disciplinary issue for Pennant when he was sent off when Liverpool met FC Porto from Portugal. Jermaine Pennant never played for the Reds again and was loaned to Portsmouth. Pennant was virtually non-existent for Portsmouth. This period was followed by a small stint with Real Zaragoza. Pennant failed to settle in his new surrounding and was late to a number of trainings which enraged his manager and resulted in him being shunted to the subs bench without playing another game. Another ‘almost’.
Pennant went on to sign a loan deal and then a permanent deal with the Ogres of Stoke City. That’s I think when his facial hair grew out of control under the phenomenal pheromonal influence of his team mates. Pennant continued his issues with authority at Stoke, breaking two of their match curfews. After a small period on loan at the Wolverhampton Wanderers, Pennant’s contract expired with Stoke without a renewal till Hughes became the manager. Pennant was signed up again, failed to make a significant impact again, and had his contract terminated at the beginning of this year.
The International Almost
Jermaine Pennant was always perpetually on the cusp of gaining an international cap but never could make it. At one point, Pennant became so frustrated that he threw his hat in to be included for the Republic of Ireland. Needless to say, that didn’t work either.
You see what I mean by ‘almost’? Pennant’s career has been a story of chances followed by misdemeanours. I wonder what will happen to him in India. He is playing for Pune. Perhaps, the students of the city will appreciate his rebellious attitude. In any case, unlike other former EPL players, Jermaine Pennant is not very old (only 31) and has bags of talent. I expect to have some fun watching him today. I hope you’ll join me because I will give you a Match Report after the game.