S League: Pennant passes test with Tampines Rovers

S League: Pennant passes test with Tampines Rovers
Second day of former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant's trial with Tampines Rovers at Jurong West Stadium.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He had no qualms about helping to move the portable goalposts with his new teammates, training on a less-than-pristine pitch, nor did he complain about hopping into a makeshift ice bath in a bin.

"Hardly London Colney or Melwood, eh?" asked this reporter.

With a disarming smile and chuckle, former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant said: "No, it isn't. But I've seen worse."

Who would have thought that the 32-year-old would appear at the Jurong West Stadium, or imagined that the far-flung venue could be Pennant's new home ground?

But here he is, on trial, devoid of airs and eager to show that he could be an asset to the Stags.

After his first appearance at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday, Pennant kicked off his first session at Jurong West in fine style, acing the 2.4km test, even if he had to share the running track with the public.

After finishing with a flourish, he declared much to the amusement of his teammates: "Cruising!"

Clearly not one of those out-of-shape journeymen, the Englishman was just a couple of seconds behind fullback Irwan Shah and midfielder Fabian Kwok, who completed the six laps in exactly nine minutes; the S.League's passing standard for the mandatory fitness test is 9min 30sec.

While there are no such requirements in the top European leagues, Pennant was nonplussed about the run, which has courted controversy within the S.League as critics feel it is not an accurate measurement of a footballer's match fitness or abilities.

"After leaving Wigan last summer, I still keep myself fit. The first two laps were difficult but once I got used to the conditions, it was no problem for me," he said, as a handful of fans beckoned him for autographs and wefies.

"Everyone in the team passed and the test just shows that the players are willing to work hard and run.

"I guess the league doesn't want players to come and not be able to perform; that's reasonable."

After a short rest, the players were put through the paces in a series of attacking drills before playing a small two-sided match.

While it was clear that Pennant still has to shake off some ring rust, there were enough glimpses of his pace, work rate and willingness to be a team player to suggest that he will be a big hit in the S.League.

He said: "Tampines have good, fast, and technically sound players.

"In fact, from the short time that I've been here, I would rate Tampines along with some clubs from the lower end of the Championship and those at the higher end of League One.

"Obviously, the big difference with the English game is the height. We are not a team full of six-foot-tall strikers and defenders, but they make up for that with their work rate and speed."

With four foreign players of decent pedigree on trial (see next page) and new S.League rules restricting clubs to a maximum of three senior imports, Tampines coach 
V Sundramoorthy admitted he has a headache figuring out who will be the best fit.

FRIENDLY

Ahead of tonight's (7.30pm) friendly against Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the 50-year-old said: "It is difficult to assess from just one game, and we will be going to Malaysia for more friendlies, so I hope to see more of these players before making a decision.

"You can see that Pennant is still very fit and was able to keep pace with the fittest players in the team.

"Of course, his ability on the pitch is a priority, but I'm also looking from another point of view - the S.League needs more characters, more personalities.

"From what we have seen, Pennant can be a good influence in terms of attracting fans and giving S.League matches a new lease of life."

FAS recruiting girl footballers

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is organising three Girls' Cubs Festivals at secondary schools islandwide to find the next batch of rising stars.

The events, open to girls aged 12 and below, aim to promote football to more girls and encourage them to join one of three FAS all-girls' Cubs Centres to train and play the sport regularly.

Participants can look forward to game stations and small-sided matches at the festivals.

The first will be held at Hong Kah Secondary School next Saturday, while the other two will be at Bowen Secondary School and Queensway Secondary School on Jan 17 and 24 respectively.

Participants are required to be in sports attire or football jerseys, together with running shoes or football boots.

Those interested may write in to GrassrootsFootball@fas.org.sg to book a spot, or register 30 minutes before the sessions commence.

Admission is free.

More foreign flavour at Tampines

With former EPL star Jermaine Pennant hogging the limelight, a trio of foreign trialists almost flew under the radar.

But they have also come with impressive CVs and a point to prove to Tampines Rovers.

Forward Philip Lund, for example, is a former Denmark Under-19 international who has one season of Major League Soccer experience with Seattle Sounders under his belt.

Yesterday, the 26-year-old comfortably cleared the 2.4km test in 9min 3sec while hardly breaking sweat.

In the two-sided matches at Jurong West Stadium, Lund also demonstrated his ability to finish with both feet.

"I'm adventurous and I like to see new things and meet new people," said Lund, who last played in the Faroe Islands.

"It's tough here in terms of weather conditions because of the humidity and, with the jetlag, my legs are heavy in the beginning.

"But once I get back my fitness and touches, I will be able to show more of my speed, my ability to beat opponents in one-v-one situations, vision and goals.

"The level of play here has surprised me a lot. This club have good history, a great coach and set of players, so I hope I will be able to do well enough to earn a contract here."

Meanwhile, Romone Rose, who showed good strength and power in yesterday's session, will be hoping that his experience playing in Thailand will come into good use.

The 25-year-old had featured for Queens Park Rangers in the Championship after coming through their youth ranks and can play as a striker or a winger.

He said: "I spent one season in Thailand with Muangthong United in 2011 and I'm used to this heat.

"I like it in Asia and I think this region is up and coming in terms of football.

"I feel I can bring flair to the team. I'm strong as a midfielder or a striker and I have a good shot in me. I'm also a good team player who is ready to work hard."

WELL-TRAVELLED

Completing the line-up of foreign trialists is 28-year-old centre back Kwon Jun, who has played in Brazil, Iran, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The former South Korea Under-20 international was an assured presence at the back and preferred to find team mates instead of making rushed clearances.

He said: "I like new challenges and I want to learn. Tampines will play in AFC competitions next season and it will be good to be part of that.

"I can contribute to the team in terms of my reading of the game.

"Having played in Indonesia and Malaysia, I'm also able to communicate well with my teammates in Malay."


This article was first published on Jan 9, 2016.
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