So Jermaine Pennant, the forgotten man of Merseyside, has jumped ship for sunnier and warmer shores, namely, Real Zaragoza. Perhaps this move will come as a bit of a shock to some of you?
Well he was linked with Real Madrid pre-Galacticos II era, so his move to the Mediterranean is not as much of a surprise as first thought. But with Pennant leaving one Spaniard in Rafael Benítez for another in Marcelino García Toral, the inevitable question arises; Can he be a success?
British players in Spain are no new phenomenon. Over the years numerous Brits have touched down on the Iberian Peninsula for more than an 18-30’s and a few weeks of sunshine. At Real Madrid we had Laurie Cunningham, Steve McManaman Jonathan Woodgate, David Beckham and Michael Owen. At Barça the likes of Gary Linekar and Steve Archibald. The Irish have a presence too with Ian Harte and Steve Finnan. Terry Venables, Chris Coleman and Bobby Robson have all tried their hands at management. So the British are not exactly unknown to have played or indeed managed in La Liga, but then again, we haven’t exactly set it alight on the field. Or have we?
I think to say that British players have failed in Spain is, to an extent, a misconception. Linekar for example, was a success. 21 goals in 41 games in this first season (1986) including a memorable hat-trick in the El Clásico , a Copa Del Rey in 1988 and the Cup Winners Cup in 1989 is hardly the record of a failure, is it?
Lets fast-forward to Steve McManaman in 1999. While the British media may not be particularly appreciative of his time in Spain, it cannot be denied that he was to some extent a success in his 4 years at the club. He played a pivotal role in the team that won the Champions League in 2000, scoring a fantastic goal in the final and in his time at Madrid played in a side that accomplished the La Liga in 2001 and 2003, the Supercopa de España in 2001 and 2003, the Champions League in 2003 and 2002, UEFA Super Cup 2002 and Intercontinental Cup 2002.
He was no bit part player either. At least, not for the first 3 seasons. Admittedly he was not always considered first choice after the arrival of superstars such as Luis Figo, but he played an important role. Perhaps eventually a victim of the first Galacticos Era, McManaman can certainly raise his head high from his time with Los Blancos.
I’m not going to go through in depth all the statistics of the few who have ventured from our shores to the sun in Spain. But when you look back at the British players who have graced La Liga there not many whom you can say failed; Owen had the highest ratio of goals per minutes played in his season at Madrid. Yet we still view British players who venture to foreign soil as, well, not as successful as those who stay in the United Kingdom. This is certainly the view I have experienced.
Pennant may not be of the same commercial or footballing caliber of Beckham or Linekar but he has the chance to prove many doubters wrong. Not just those who criticize Pennant himself but those, both in our own media and abroad, who say that the British cannot perform outside their own country.
I for one will be watching his progress in Aragón, closely.