Pennant: Paying the Penance

Well, no one can accuse Rafa Benítez of signing ‘easy’ players.

For a little over half of what Seville wanted for Daniel Alves it looks good business to move for Jermaine Pennant, especially if the remainder can be put towards another much-needed addition, such as Feyenoord’s Dirk Kuyt, to fill the 4th striking vacancy.

It may seem like a case of settling for second-best, but that doesn’t make Pennant second-rate. Managers can have a number of targets, and be happy with any of them.

It’s not like buying a new car, when you can choose what suits and then pay the retail price. Often you are trying to buy a unique ‘product’ from a reluctant seller, and there’s no set market price, just the amount that a club either feels a player is worth, or what they hope someone would be willing to pay.

Twice the fee doesn’t mean twice the player; it’s still fractions of difference in quality. The biggest advantages Pennant has over Alves are that he speaks English and is proven quality in the Premiership. Alves looks the better all-round player, on the little evidence I’ve seen, but Pennant is more of a specialist right winger.

I’ve been a fan of Pennant ‘“ the player ‘“ ever since his excellent season at Leeds a few years back. Pennant the person concerns me somewhat, however. His problems at Arsenal were numerous, but the main ones were the quality of his rivals for a place in the team, and his own tender age.

Robert Pires was too good at that stage, both in terms of individual talent and how he linked with Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, while Freddie Ljungberg had a phenomenal goalscoring record from wide positions. No teenager was going to break up that wide pairing, while Arsenal were purring as a side, and in no need of any tinkering. Needs must; Liverpool need a right winger, and back then, Arsenal didn’t.

Pennant, meanwhile, was too young and too impatient. Perhaps signing for a big club for £2m at the age of 15 speeds up your expectations, but Pennant wanted action before he’d proved he was ready. The ability was never in doubt.

I felt he was incredibly stupid in what he said and did at Arsenal, and shortly after leaving, and I stand by that. (But hell, I’m still saying incredibly stupid things, and I’m 35.) As with Bellamy, we can only hope the worst is behind him, and that he has grown up. I’d like to think Pennant has taken a good look at himself, and his actions, and rather than blame the world, has taken responsibility for his own actions. Only then will he put it all behind him, and not risk repeat offending.

With a weaker man managing the club I’d be worried, but Rafa always seems in full control. And both Bellamy and Pennant clearly want to be at Liverpool. It’s up to them to take this chance, as it’s only downward steps when leaving Liverpool, unless Real Madrid or Barcelona pitch up for your services, and that’s highly unlikely.

It’s been a while coming, but Pennant is now at a level where he can get regular games at a top club, even if he cannot expect to play every game; no one at Liverpool has that right, and another point to watch out for is his reaction to being out of the side. At 23 he is at a good age, particularly as he has a fair bit of experience under his belt ‘“ he’s not a raw 23-year-old ‘“ not to mention an understanding of what it’s like at a big club.

He can add more goals to his game, but that will be easier in a team dominating games. At Leeds at Birmingham his main role was just getting the ball from a defensive area into the opposition half, and to try and put in crosses ‘“ which he did with impressive results.

Pennant has been relegated twice, but as with Peter Crouch he showed his ability and character in a struggling side. He’s now at an age where he’s ready to go up a gear or two in a better side, one which plays to his strengths and where he receives more possession, and receives that possession in more dangerous areas.

Like Craig Bellamy and Mark Gonzalez, Pennant offers genuine pace with the ball under control. Last season Cissé offered blistering speed, but it wasn’t always allied to control. A lack of pace was a major weakness in the side at times, especially when Cissé wasn’t playing, while Harry Kewell only found his pace of old in bursts.

Pennant has excellent crossing ability, like another new addition ‘“ Fabio Aurelio, while Gonzalez’s delivery is also reliable ‘“ and that’s something that Peter Crouch will benefit from. Crouch isn’t the best header of a ball around, as we all know, but if the delivery is good he can be impossible to defend against. For all his lack of power he is still dangerous in the air, and with the addition of his England goals got close to double figures from headers last season, as well as numerous headed assists.

Robbie Fowler, meanwhile, is a great header of the ball, but is almost a foot shorter than Crouch; so he relies on accurate delivery, too. Morientes will perhaps rue that the delivery will improve after his exit, but his heading was uncharacteristically poor during his 18 months on Merseyside; he scored just one headed goal last season.

None of Pennant, Bellamy, Gerrard and Gonzalez need stick rigidly to one position. I can envisage the Reds breaking at pace with these four spinning off in different directions, dragging defenders every which way, with either Crouch or Fowler acting as the central fulcrum, and Alonso, Aurelio and Agger (when he plays) as the expert passers from deep positions. It’s a mouth-watering prospect.

And that doesn’t include Luis Garica, Zenden and Kewell, all of whom will play an important role this season.

Going forward, the Reds are capable of posing a lot more problems to opposing defences, and that’s likely to secure better results and have us all closer to the edge of our seats.

© Paul Tomkins 2006

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