With one daring and expensive transfer swoop, Tampines Rovers have shown the loyal fans, rival clubs, cynics like me and hopefully the FAS, there is still a future for the floundering S.League.
Jermaine Pennant, the former Arsenal and Liverpool winger, hogged headlines during his week long trial and subsequent transfer to the five-times Singaporean champions , with upto 2,000 fans turning out for a pre-season game just to witness an English Premier League performer in action. Not bad considering attendances for many S.League fixtures are only in the 100s.
The unrivaled attention has been a blessing for a domestic competition which seemed destined for the scrap heap, with fans turning away, media all but giving up and the FAS insistent on pursuing an ASEAN Super League – which the rest of the region seems unsure of – at the detriment of its own domestic product.
Tellingly the Pennant deal is only for one season. In 2017 the ASEAN Super League is scheduled to start and the Lions XII reformed to represent, once again ripping the best local talent away from an already limited S.League pool.
Pennant, who has helped generate the buzz around his arrival by undertaking a noticeably genial attitude to all media, interview and “taste our local food” requests, has already spoken out against the idea. Impressive displays on the pitch and coaxing more bums on seats during the S.League campaign would arguably carry more sway with FAS bosses.
For Tampines, who had already helped the FAS by snapping up a host of out-of-contract Lions XII players caught out by the FAM’s decision to ditch the Singaporean side, the onus is on them to maintain the marketing push with Pennant and ensure the buzz, attendances and fan engagement continue on an upward trajectory.
Pennant, who has taken a 70% pay cut to play in Singapore, has already helped out by saying he will talk to other Premier League players about coming to Southeast Asia but whether any of the other S.League club chairman have the cash or bravado to complete a similar deal remains to be seen.
The 33-year-old arguably never fulfilled his talent. Once Britain’s most expensive teenager when Arsenal signed him at 15 from Notts County, he became a headline maker for all the wrong reasons and was the first Premier League player to wear an electronic tag after his release from prison.
He makes for an unlikely S.League saviour, but lets hope he can deliver.