A mercurial talent is often a divisive tag bestowed on a footballer. It is mainly assigned to temperamental attacking players, flashy at times and wastefully frustrating at others.
This was the reputation that Jermaine Pennant sported throughout his career in professional football. In fact, he even wore Nike Mercurial Vapors on his full professional debut for Arsenal in May 2003.
That night, playing alongside the likes of Denis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, and Thierry Henry, Pennant scored a hat-trick in an end of season dead rubber. The future looked bright for the right-sided winger. They would turn out to be his only three league goals for the club.
Pennant revealed post-career that he scored that hat-trick in the midst of a nasty hangover, having been partying with friends the night before. This flashy, playboy stereotype stuck with him for the majority of his career, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
Pennant went on to play in a Champions League Final for Liverpool, played over 150 times in the Premier League, and was on the verge of a move to Real Madrid before Juande Ramos pulled the plug on the deal. Not bad for a flashy playboy.
So when we reassess his career, people often point to wasted talent, lack of discipline, and most notably, an abandoned Porsche Cayenne at Zaragoza railway station.
The story of Pennant’s Porsche parking problems started with a move to Spain in the 2009/10 season. Having seen his chance of moving to Real Madrid scuppered by former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos the previous season, he eventually made the move to La Liga the following year, signing for newly promoted Real Zaragoza.
The move involved a significant pay increase worth in the region of €1.8m a year over a three-year contract. This cash injection and his proclivity to party made Pennant’s time in Zaragoza more memorable for his off-field antics.
This included an ill-fated trip to Marbella behind the backs of club staff as told in El Periódico de Aragón.
“I had told the club that I had to go home to my family to resolve some personal matters. They gave me permission, but instead, I went with all my friends from England to Marbella. They were incredible nights. But it didn’t end well. I missed my flight back, did not attend training, and the press found out that I had been there.”
This incident led to a significant fine and a willingness from both parties to cut ties and find a path back to England, with Pennant eventually joining Stoke on transfer deadline day in September 2010. This last minute journey back to the North of England contributed significantly to his footballing legacy.
The personalized Porsche Cayenne that sat in Zaragoza-Delicias train station for months on end became a folly of the modern day footballer. It is often cited when Pennant’s unfulfilled talent is mentioned in column inches. But this is cheap headline making and is typical of the coverage that befits Black, Asian, and minority ethnic footballers.
Pennant was raised by a single father with a severe drug addiction. He could have been sucked into gang culture as he has openly talked about.
Yet, when we look back on his glittering career (see above), the narrative switches to money spent on cars and lavish nights out. The fact of the matter is Pennant overachieved given the circumstances of his upbringing.
The same commentary is reserved for other BAME players of equal or lesser standing. Pennant’s close friend and former Arsenal teammate Ashley Cole is a prime example of this. He was famously brandished Cashley Cole for making his switch across London to Chelsea. The narrative was never fair, and it followed Cole for the rest of his career.
Yes, Pennant had his misgivings, and Real Zaragoza fans will attest to that, but give anyone €1.8 million a year and see how they react. The aftermath would probably require a year’s hard graft at Stoke with Tony Pulis.
So as Pennant himself admitted to, he eventually told his translator to pay his parking fine of several hundred euros because he never got the chance to get back to Zaragoza himself. A perfectly reasonable explanation. Gifting the car to the translator as a thank you for paying said fine, perhaps not as reasonable, but I digress.
The Englishman will not be remembered for his time in Zaragoza, and that’s perfectly fine. It was merely a lucrative blip on an otherwise excellent career. He was paid what he was worth at the time and should be celebrated as such.
His Porsche remained abandoned at a train station but his career did not. He went on to play another seven years of professional football. Not bad for an underachieving party boy.
So, in essence, we are all an abandoned Porsche in a bustling Spanish railway station, the afterthought of our millionaire owners, hoping that one day someone can write wash me on our dusty exterior. The age-old conundrum, right?
If a Porsche Cayenne is abandoned in a Spanish train station and no one is there to witness it, does your translator need a raise? Jermaine Pennant certainly thinks so.