Stags excited by buzz Pennant brings to S.League
Tampines talk up potential of Jermaine, on and off the pitch
There were six photographers, three television cameras, and a horde of journalists at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
They were joined at the sidelines by Singapore national coach Bernd Stange, national youth teams coach Richard Tardy, former LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad, a slew of Football Association of Singapore (FAS) administrative staff, and a few members of the public - yes, fans.
This was hardly commonplace for a training session of an S.League club, but yesterday was hardly a normal occasion.
Most of them had come to see Jermaine Pennant on his first day of a week-long trial with Tampines Rovers.
The former Liverpool and Arsenal winger did not quite explode into action, but was instead overshadowed by the lively Yasir Hanapi in a two-sided game.
But the Englishman already showed what his presence could bring.
"This is what the league needs," said Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy, pointing to the crowd at the sidelines.
"We can't judge Jermaine on just one performance in training, in the same way that we can't base our decision on his reputation in the past. But you can already see the effect a player like him has."
The S.League has struggled with dwindling attendances and shrinking sponsorships, and could undoubtedly do with a boost in the form of a former English Premier League star.
Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra is optimistic that Pennant, who turns 33 next Friday, could just be the much needed shot in the arm.
"People make mistakes when they're young and I think everyone deserves a second chance," he said of Pennant, who has been plagued by off-the-field problems in the past.
"His humility, candour and level-headedness really impressed me.
"We didn't have to discuss about the financials (of the possible deal), what we did speak about was if this is the right club, the right platform for him. And, that for me, was a good sign," added the lawyer.
Even if money was not the main factor in drawing Pennant to Singapore, he is expected to be paid much more than the average S.League player's salary of $3,000.
And it is a fact not lost on Krishna.
"We have to be fair to him, and we will be looking for corporate sponsors who can help us with his wages," he said of the player who was once England's most expensive teenager when Arsenal paid £2 million ($4.2m) for the signature of the then 15-year-old.
Pennant may not have impressed on the pitch yesterday, but he could be effective off the pitch.
He does know a thing or two about handling the pressures of being a precocious teenager and, yesterday, he played alongside one of Singapore's own bright talents - Saifullah Akbar.
Just 16, Saifullah impressed at Australian side Newcastle Jets during a trial last year and, while he did not secure a contract, he is looking to take his game to the next level.
"Of course, I've seen him play, and it felt good to play alongside him. He's such an experienced player, but I just tried to play my normal game," said Saifullah, who was also thrilled to train with a squad populated with Singapore internationals such as Ismadi Mukhtar and Izwan Mahbud.
"It was quite surprising to see all the media here to see Jermaine, and I hope we get more of this in the future."
Former Singapore international Noh Rahman will play for the 20th consecutive year in the S.League this season and he was also thrilled by the attention brought by Pennant.
"We understand that he just arrived this morning before training, and he was on a 14-hour flight as well," said the 35-year-old. "The pitch is something new to him, and it will take getting used to but, overall, I think he will be a good addition to the team.
"Look at this, he came for one training session, and he brought all this media with him.
"This is amazing, and something our league needs. If we can have this every day, it will be absolutely brilliant."
- SHAMIR OSMAN