Signed by Arsenal for £2m 15 years to the day - The career of their enigmatic former starlet

Jermaine Pennant

Jermaine Pennant signed for Arsenal on the 8th January 1999 - but can that be the day his career began to nosedive before it truly begun?

Jermaine Pennant, at 30-years-old, is now an infrequent regular in the Stoke City side under Mark Hughes. He has never played for England, never won a major trophy and has had a career blighted by off-the-field problems - so what happened?

Fifteen years ago, on the 8th January 1999, Arsenal splashed out an unprecedented £2 million on the 16-year-old winger from Notts County - and soon enough he became their youngest ever player at age 16 years and 319 days in November the same year.

But his time at Arsenal, despite one shining light in a hat-trick performance v Southampton back in 2003, was troubled by homesickness and poor timekeeping - for a young lad such novelties could be forgotten.

But when he was arrested and charged for drink-driving that was seemingly the final straw.

Pennant, still only 22 at the time, was handed a life-line by Birmingham City - for whom he played wearing an electronic tag on parole - and things looked up.

He impressed at St Andrews and ended up at Liverpool - Pennant was back in the promised land and soon found himself on the cusp of Steve McClaren’s England team in 2006 - finally looking like fulfilling a prophecy first delivered seven years previous.

But his good form did not last - and he ended up signing for Real Zaragoza in 2009. That lasted one season - after he turned up late for training three times and found himself banished from the first team.

His time at Stoke has been less tumultuous. He was initially released this summer but returned to the club after Mark Hughes’ arrival.

However the most recent headlines he made were for dressing up as Osama Bin Laden at a New Year’s Party.

So why has it not worked out for a player ‘destined’ to play for England. It is easy just to say he isn’t good enough, or that he wasn’t hungry enough.

But his case is one that highlights the poor development of talent since the turn of the millennium.

Imagine you’re 16-years-old and suddenly you are told you are worth £2 million. Your bank fills with money you have no idea what to do with. How would you cope?

Some are cut out for such a jump in pressure, scrutiny and responsibility - I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle it though.

Many would say it is a travesty. That Pennant has wasted a God-given talent to play the game and that his misdemeanours on the pitch are entirely all his own doing.

Personally, I say that is the easy excuse, the cheap way out.

The reality is, 15 years ago the game let him down, when it told him he was worth more than most people earn in a lifetime.

How does a 16-year-old kid process that as they move to the bright lights of London?

It would great to see if Pennant has an Indian summer left in his career. At 30-years-old and relatively fit there is no reason to believe he cannot still leave a mark in the game - but the likelihood is, he will always be considered something of a ‘flop’.

But here is perhaps his best moment in an Arsenal shirt, a hat-trick which marked the start of the clubs incredible unbeaten streak…

image: © wonker

Register for ARSENAL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch