Stoke City winger Jermaine Pennant seems to have been around forever. 12 years ago he was signed for £2m by Arsenal as a hugely talented 15-year-old. Over a decade later his disciplinary problems have hampered a career that has flourished and faltered in equal measure. At present, he is in purple-patch and showing signs of just why Arsene Wenger paid a record fee for a trainee all those years ago.
Pennant’s time with Stoke was a perfect match from the very start. A player who revels in putting crosses in, plying his trade for a side whose approach is very much percentage based. The Potters are all about getting deliveries in the box – be it from set-pieces, throw-ins or crosses from open play – so Pennant suited them ideally. His game is very similar to that of Matthew Etherington, who has seen his career hit new heights following his move to Stoke in 2009. Etherington offers the width and deliveries from the left-flank while Pennant has given the same on the right since moving last summer. Both wingers give the side great balance and the team look to get the ball out wide at the first possible opportunity, utilising their main attacking threat.
The fact they have strikers such as Kenwyne Jones, Jonathan Walters, John Carew and Ricardo Fuller, who are all excellent at attacking crosses, means Pennant only needs to put the ball in a good area, rather than pick out a man more precisely. Pennant has always been so gifted at shaping a cross, similar to David Beckham in that he can whip a ball at pace that can bend away from the goal, meaning the ball is coming back in the direction of the attacking striker. He needs to worry mainly about placement, rather getting the required power.
Pennant recently stated he was enjoying the finest form of his career in the Potteries and despite a good spell at Birmingham City which earned him a big-money move to Liverpool, it is hard to argue with him. His time at Birmingham was of course marred by his off-the-field misdemeanours, but he showed signs of the promise that were there when he was a teenager. The expectation on his shoulders from such a young age cannot have been easy in the early part of his career, but he went astray for many years and has only showed short stints of what his best.
Still only 28, he still has a few years left playing at the top level, but for a player who can offer so much he will surely look back and wonder just what he could have achieved if he had been truly dedicated in his younger years. Stories of turning up late to training and being a disruptive influence has meant a player who was once touted as the next big thing has never been recognised at senior international level. For now he will just enjoy being a vital part of a successful team, although many who watched him star in Tuesday night’s emphatic win over Wolverhampton Wanderers will wonder why there have not been more of those menacing displays in his long career.