Pennant’s S.League has nowhere to hide now

International media coverage suggests that Singapore football has moved into a bigger spotlight, which is great unless something goes wrong, argues Neil Humphreys...

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

Jermaine Pennant’s wife wants to know how much it costs to ship a car to Singapore. She said so on Twitter, much to the amusement of everyone already living here.

If the Pennant family car is sent across the ocean on a diamond-encrusted Viking longboat, powered by a dozen Olympians and led by Sir Steve Redgrave, it still won’t cost as much as the Certificate of Entitlement.

By the time Pennant’s car gets the world’s most expensive piece of paper and the kids’ international school fees are taken care of, there should be enough left from his alleged monthly salary in excess of $40,000, and reported to be as high as $62,000, for a plate of chicken rice.

The reported salary has been neither confirmed nor denied by Pennant or Tampines. Both parties would be foolish to do so. Pennant is now the most expensive footballer in S.League history and the Stags are generous benefactors performing peerless national service.

That’s the official line and both sides are sticking to it. And why wouldn’t they? The international PR is nigh on priceless, opening a media window to the world for the grateful S.League to peek through. Admittedly, it’s more of a peephole at this stage, but the car story offered a telling glimpse of what’s to come.

Pennant is now the most expensive footballer in S.League history and the Stags are generous benefactors performing peerless national service.

Pennant’s wife sent one tweet. Just one. How could she ship her car from one country to another? That was it, no details, no mention of her husband, the impending Tampines deal or even the countries involved.

But she’s Alice Goodwin, a popular glamour model whose fame now exceeds her husband’s in the UK. She has more than 200,000 followers (the entire population of Tampines is only 250,000).

Within hours, her tweet was picked up by the Daily Mirror and spun with the voracious eagerness of Rumpelstiltskin. The car reference was an opportunity to resurrect the old chestnut of Pennant once being so obscenely wealthy, he left a Porsche in a Spanish train station car park and forget all about it.

The 2011 incident was supposedly indicative of a grotesque, shallow environment and Pennant was presented as the pin-up of the modern, greedy footballer.

Pennant's brazenness is refreshing, and promises to bring a breath of fresh air

READ ALSO I'm not at Tampines for the money, says Pennant

In truth, he had left Real Zaragoza to join Stoke. He knew where the car was and paid the parking fines later, but why let a few facts get in the way of a good story that pandered to the perception that all footballers had more money than sense.

So an innocuous 18-word tweet, from Pennant’s wife, was enough for one of the biggest football tabloids to remind its audience that a league that most of its readers had never heard of was signing an ageing footballer who forgets where he parks Porsches.

Imagine what such a broad spotlight could do with a genuinely detrimental story, something that accurately represented a league traditionally ill-equipped with handling negative publicity; something like the dodgy surface at Jalan Besar.

Few players like the artificial, bone-rattling pitch. Even fewer would criticise the conditions publicly, not in Singapore, where a footballer’s rice bowl is always fragile.

But Pennant can afford to be less circumspect in his opinions. He’s criticised Jalan Besar already, referring to its “dreaded artificial pitch” on his Twitter page and thus making an immediate positive contribution to the local landscape.

The pitch is dreadful. It’s an unwanted relic from an era when synthetic surfaces were going to save the sport from those pockmarked, patchy, unreliable grass surfaces. But turf management moved on. Jalan Besar did not.

READ ALSO Learn from past mistakes S.League - give Jermaine Pennant a chance

Here’s hoping that Pennant proves equally outspoken on the game’s other thorny issues: the inconsistent coaching, the bureaucratic red tape and the varying levels of professionalism among players, to put it diplomatically.

If the Jalan Besar pitch surprised Pennant, then he ain’t seen nothing yet. The rude awakenings promise to be a regular occurrence. But that should be viewed as a good thing rather than a source of panic among the KPI counters.

The Arsenal and Liverpool veteran, who turns 33 on Friday, may be privately shocked by his initial findings. For the good of Singapore’s game, let’s hope a little of that rebelliousness remains and he speaks as he finds.

If Pennant is serious about adding a dignified full stop to a nomadic playing career, local football could certainly use his input.

After a nomadic playing career, Pennant could finally find himself leaving a lasting impact somewhere

If his wife’s tweet about car shipping attracted so much attention, imagine what Pennant could do if he poked his head into the S.League’s neglected corners and offered suggestions for improvement.

READ ALSO Player agent labels Pennant S.League deal an absolute steal

The very thought may cause palpitations among established decision-makers, but here’s the new, sobering reality to consider (they may want to take a lie down in a darkened room before reading on.)

It’s no longer the S.League. It’s Jermaine Pennant’s S.League. Occasionally, it will even be Alice Goodwin’s S.League to her 200,000 followers.

Should there be a salary scandal, it will happen in Pennant’s S.League. If daft regulations are suddenly introduced, they will affect Pennant’s S.League.

Should Pennant’s S.League be embarrassed by bureaucratic meddling, poor playing surfaces, failed sponsorship deals, fickle fans, empty stadiums, political infighting or even a match-fixing scandal, they will all get the requisite publicity.

The Daily Mirror, Sky Sports and the Daily Mail are already reporting on his move to Singapore. Pennant is about to make the S.League famous, which is wonderful.

But beware – an incompetent S.League could end up infamous.