HONG KONG SOCCER
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Hong Kong Premier League 2015-16

Jermaine Pennant is worth US$28,000 a month in Singapore – ‘up to Hong Kong clubs if they want to pay for big names’

HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe says teams need to spend to attract quality players and boost attendances

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 5:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 10:37pm

Bigger names attract bigger crowds, says Hong Kong soccer chief executive Mark Sutcliffe after a Singapore club signed former Arsenal and Liverpool player Jermaine Pennant at a reported salary of US$28,000 a month. Whether Hong Kong clubs are willing to splash out is up to them but Sutcliffe says the landscape in Asia is changing and quality doesn’t come cheap.

The 33-year-old Pennant signed a one-year deal with S-League side Tampines Rovers, making him the highest-paid footballer in the Singapore league.

Not necessarily all the time but the bigger the name, the bigger the player and to get big names back in Hong Kong would be really good
Mark Sutcliffe, HKFA chief executive

“In my experience, it is the names that attract crowds,” said Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Sutcliffe. “Sometimes big names are synonymous with good quality. Not necessarily all the time but the bigger the name, the bigger the player and to get big names back in Hong Kong would be really good.

“It’s a lot of money [for Pennant], probably more than any of our players are getting in Hong Kong but the landscapes are changing. Look at over the border in China, they have much bigger salaries for much bigger names.

“Asian football is improving, people are starting to expect bigger names and whether clubs can afford to do this is down to them. Some clubs got more money than others.”

The S-League is continuously trying to boost popularity and media reports say 1,200 people turned up to watch Pennant make his debut in a 2-0 preseason victory over Hougang United. The average crowd for an S-League match is less than 1,000.

Foreign players Hong Kong clubs are mostly from South America and Africa, several of whom have taken up Hong Kong citizenship.

“Actually, if you go back a couple of years, South China brought in [ex-Manchester United star] Nicky Butt, and he’s a much bigger name than the player in Singapore,” said Sutcliffe. “At the end of the day, it’s down to the clubs.”

Meanwhile, Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra said his salary was a “sexy” figure, with local media giving the figure of US$28,000 - less than a quarter of his pay at previous club Wigan Athletic.

No matter where you go in the world, it’s always a great chance to prove yourself. It’s not a lesser league but a different chapter
Jermaine Pennant

“No matter where you go in the world, it’s always a great chance to prove yourself,” said Pennant.

“It’s not a lesser league but a different chapter.”

Pennant will don the number nine jersey for Tampines, the league’s runners-up last season. The winger had been on trial with the club since arriving in the Southeast Asian city-state on January 7.

Team officials hope that Pennant’s star appeal could help revive the S-League, which has seen dwindling attendances since crowds of 30,000 packed the stands during the inaugural season in 1996.

“It will inject more confidence into the fanbase. In the long term, this is the necessary fillip that Singapore football has needed,” Ramachandra said.

Pennant had started off his career on a promising note.

He was once England’s most expensive teenager when he was snapped up by Arsenal as a precocious 15-year-old. He was acquired by Liverpool in 2006 for 6.7 million pounds.

He later featured for a number of clubs including Stoke City, Wolves, Wigan and Spanish side Real Zaragoza.

But Pennant’s career was marred by his off-pitch misdemeanours, including disciplinary issues and drink-driving convictions.

In 2005, while on loan from Arsenal at Birmingham City, Pennant played wearing an electronic tag after being freed from jail for drink-driving.

Despite his chequered past, Ramachandra has been impressed by the player, describing him as a “total professional”.

Before arriving in Singapore, Pennant also had a spell with Pune City in India and tried out with Thai Premier League outfit Muangthong United.