Pennant’s move to Singapore shows changing face of league football

It seems a world away from when Jermaine Pennant became the most expensive teenage footballer back in 1999. Then aged 15, the promising winger swapped Notts County for the heady heights of Arsenal for a handsome transfer fee of £2 million. Now, Pennant is preparing to lace up his boots in an ambitious attempt to give his career one final kick-start in Singapore after penning a deal with Tampines Rovers.

A CV that can lay claim to spells with the Gunners as well as the likes of Birmingham City, Liverpool and Stoke City is not exactly a bad one, but when one considers the extraordinary hype that greeted Pennant during his formative years it is. Tipped to become an England regular, like the David Bentleys of this world, he could never quite cut it. Not that his off-field problems had anything to do with it mind.

We should not be shocked to see someone move abroad late in their career. Common destinations include the MLS in the United States, and increasingly the money-laden Indian Super League where Pennant was once on the books of FC Pune City in 2014. Others opt to drop down the divisions within the English game, as Joe Cole most recently did by signing on the dotted line with League One Coventry City. It therefore presents a difficult dilemma for clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League as to whether they pursue players of that kind of ilk or pursue alternative strategies.

In the majority of cases, many clubs in League One or League Two would steer well clear of the likes of Pennant. Some may consider these sorts of players as ‘damaged goods’, others would point to the wage demands which can exceed what sides are either capable or willing to pay. But it also raises an important point as to whether this is a trend that we may see more of. The importance of academies to these sorts of teams cannot be overstated, as it is where a large part of their senior squads originate from. After all it pays to develop one’s own and then sell them on for profit, most recently seen with QPR’s purchase of striker Conor Washington from Peterborough United. In this case Washington was not a part of their academy but rather came from non-league, although the same principle applies. His former club Newport County, as a result of a sell-on clause, are set to pocket a tidy £1 million which will be vital for their financial future.

Perhaps of more immediate concern for clubs in the Football League is Fifa’s insistence that the FA should look to close the loan window outside of the existing transfer window. The emergency loan system is, and has been for a number of years now, a critical feature for clubs with small squads who can take the opportunity to bring players in when the situation dictates. This is invaluable for all 72 clubs in the Football League and would undoubtedly be a damaging setback. What becomes of FIFA’s recommendations is anyone’s guess at this stage, but should it be pushed through from next season, the trend of picking up people on the street and giving them new opportunities may become more common in the years to come.

Whether that entails the likes of Pennant, once tipped for stardom and a well-known figure in the Premier League in the early noughties, is another question. Increasingly, as has always been the trend, clubs dip into non-league in the hope of finding a relatively cheap player with the sort of upside that could lead to sizeable profit for the club in question, in the event of a future transfer.

For Pennant he can look forward to pocketing a monthly wage of around £19,500. Domestically, however, it looks likely that lower league clubs will take advantage of the alternatives.

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