One of the stranger stories of the summer was Jermaine Pennant’s transfer to Spanish side Real Zaragoza. Unfortunately it hasn’t delivered the fairytale return to form that the former Liverpool winger was hoping for.
Not since Stan Collymore’s ill-fated spell at Real Oviedo some nine years ago has an Englishman signed for a Spanish club outside of the traditional top two (Real and Barca), and although it seemed an odd move for both parties it was thought it may reap dividends.
The real sweetener behind the deal though was not what Pennant had preached about, more time and space on the ball to compliment the technical nature of his game, but the reported £80,000 a week he’d be earning, a staggering amount for the newly reported Zaragoza to fork out for a player untested in their league, new to their culture and unfamiliar with their language.
I suppose if you are looking for an English comparison to Real Zaragoza at present, it would be probably be Newcastle, but next season upon their promotion. Zaragoza’s fall from grace was as fast as it was surprising, but as the predominant team in the 6th largest city in Spain, they bounced back at the first time of asking. Relegated in 2007/8 after a top six place the season before, they finished runners-up to Xerez in the Segunda Division last year, and at present they currently find themselves in 15th place this term, just a point off the drop and in a real battle to secure their top flight status.
Pennant’s form has been said to be indifferent at best, and the winger has cut a lonely figure out wide at times this season. The determination with which Zaragoza chased his signature and the package they offered him should have meant that Pennant was going to be a key component to the team’s style of play this term, sadly that hasn’t proved the case.
More often than not when an Englishman moves abroad he is linked back with a move to these shores before he is even given time to settle in to his new surroundings, although in this instance it wouldn’t be far off the mark. In 23 league games in Spain, Pennant is yet to trouble the scorers and has just one assist to his name, for a player with an exceptional delivery at times, its an extremely poor return and only serves to highlight his ineffectiveness.
Like most sides attempting to stay up upon promotion, Zaragoza are a hugely defensive side away from home and have struggled on their travels with only 2 wins and 4 draws to show from their 15 outings away from La Romareda, and it’s obvious this style of play is not conducive to getting the best out of Pennant. Zaragoza have preferred to go with a combative style instead of the free-flowing passing game Pennant was hoping for, and as a result the former Arsenal man can go for long swathes of a game without even touching the ball and his form has been questioned for a perceived lack of effort to the struggling team’s cause – he is certainly no fan favourite. .
It has to be said that Pennant himself has regularly failed to get the best out of his undoubted ability, so the switch to foreign climes is nothing out of the ordinary with regards to form, but this hasn’t been helped by his failure to learn the language and his fallouts with the coach.
After failing to arrive on time for training for the third time in two weeks, Zaragoza coach Jose Aurelio Gay sent Pennant home and he was both reprimanded and fined. These are not the actions of a happy man, and Pennant has been noted as saying before that he doesn’t see the point of training if he isn’t going to be involved on match day, a hangover from his experience with Liverpool under Rafa Benitez, and this surly attitude is unlikely to serve any professional footballer well.
On the language front, Pennant is not the first from the English game to struggle to adapt to the changes in culture abroad, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush were others that notably failed in their efforts, and this can have a large bearing upon their state of mind and with it, their form.
The manager doesn’t speak English and Pennant doesn’t speak Spanish, and whilst Pennant’s interpreter is glued to his side, without fully immersing yourself into the language and culture, much like Gary Lineker did to a great degree in his time at Barcelona, you can’t fully integrate into the team and it’s no wonder that Pennant is constantly being linked with a move back to our fair shores come summer, for his spell at Zaragoza has been one of indifferent form and sulky mood swings, much like his career to date as a matter of fact.
Written by James McManus