Journeyman: A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding
Welcome to the penultimate episode in our Journeyman series, profiling those Premier League players who were just always there, and nobody was really sure how. We’re really pushing the limits of our definition this week, particularly on the reliable part, but I will give this man credit and say he was always reliable on the pitch. He was also very rarely outstanding, so we’re maybe not as far away as I thought.
Our entrant this week has spent time at Her Majesty’s pleasure before bouncing back to play in the Champions League and FA Cup finals. Welcome aboard, Jermaine Pennant.
The £2m Teenager
At the age of fifteen, I was battling acne and playing Championship Manager (no jokes about nothing changing please). At the same age, Jermaine Pennant cost Arsenal £2m, a then record price for a trainee. Arsene Wenger clearly saw a huge amount of potential in the young winger, giving him a debut in the League Cup in 1999, which made Pennant Arsenal’s youngest ever first-team player aged 16 and 319 days. Of course two chancers by the name of Fabregas and Wilshere would go on to take this accolade in future years, but still. Anyway, it took two and a half years before Pennant would get to taste some league action, where he came on as a substitute against West Ham.
However, it was his full league debut where Pennant truly announced himself, plundering a hat-trick against Southampton in a 6-1 demolition. Our old pal YouTube has the scoop
That third Pires goal though. Sadly, this was as good as it got for Pennant at Arsenal. His team-mates would go on to become the Invincibles whilst Jermaine would be loaned out to Watford and then Premier League Leeds, amidst reports of a bad attitude towards training. Pennant played 36 times for Leeds in the 2003/04 season, but the Yorkshire side were relegated and Pennant wasn’t signed permanently.
Despite heading back to Arsenal for the 2004/05 season, Pennant had only amassed 12 appearances by the time the January transfer window rolled around. Steve Bruce played the role of Fairy Godmother, rescuing JP from potential obscurity and then opting to stand by his man when Pennant was convicted of drink driving in March 2005. 30 days in prison later, Pennant was back in action with 2005’s must have accessory, an electronic tag. That didn’t perturb Bruce or his chairman though, who still spent £3m to make the move permanent towards the end of the season.
Typically, like many of Steve Bruce’s signings that aren’t Hondurans, the move didn’t really work out. Pennant may have played in all 38 of Birmingham’s league games, but scored just twice as Birmingham were relegated with a game to spare. Despite more alleged off the field problems, Pennant would not only be back in the Premier League for the 2006/07 season, he would also make his Champions League debut.
Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005 so it will have been a surprise to many that a year later they were shelling out £8m on Jermaine Pennant. Manager Rafa Benitez, known for his man-management skills, slowly but surely began to get the best out of Pennant. His first goal arrived in January 2007, with a sweetly hit half volley against Chelsea. Here it is in all of its glory
As Pennant’s form continued to blossom, there were calls for Pennant to be included in Steve McClaren’s unconvincing England team. These claims never came to fruition, much to Pennant’s annoyance, but Liverpool did reach the Champions League final. Pennant earned rave reviews for his performance despite Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat. The following season, Pennant’s chances were much more limited before hardly featuring at all in 2008/09, where he was loaned to Portsmouth. An uneventful spell at Fratton Park was followed by his release from Liverpool, and a surprise move…
Pennant opted to move to Spain, for the warmer climes of Zaragoza in La Liga. Predictably, it didn’t go particularly well, and with Zaragoza struggling at the bottom of the table, it wasn’t long before Pennant’s performances were coming in for criticism. By February, Pennant had slipped into old habits – turning up late for training and being dropped. So where do you go when you’ve taken the brave step of moving abroad but it’s all fallen through? That’s right. Stoke.
Stoke City would be Pennant’s sixth and final Premier League club, fulfilling his dream of playing for Tony Pulis. That may or may not be a lie. Although initially a loan deal, the move was made permanent in the January transfer window, with Pennant costing £1.7m. After a satisfying goal against former club Arsenal, he laid on an assist in the FA Cup semi-final against Bolton, which Stoke won 5-0. This allowed Pennant to play in the FA Cup final, but Stoke lost 1-0 to Manchester City. Stoke played in the Europa League the following season, and although Pennant appeared in two-thirds of Stoke’s games, he slowly began to slip down the pecking order. By the end of 2012/13, Pulis opted to release Pennant, but new manager Mark Hughes reversed that decision and kept JP around for another year.
Despite scoring the below free kick in a win against West Ham, Pennant was released in January having made only a handful of appearances.
Pennant is actually still playing now, at League One Bury. He has had spells in the Indian Super League, the Singapore S. League and, er, Wigan, but they have all been short term deals. Aged 34, there is still some miles in the tank, but whether the desire is still there is another matter entirely. It’s a career that could have turned out a lot worse given his off-field problems, but likewise there is a lot of unrealised potential. Welcome to the club, Jermaine. Just don’t be late for training.