Six-month bans and managerial departures: Cagliari and West Ham captains seeking Soccer Sevens redemption in Hong Kong
Nicholas Pennington and Joshua Pask are two of the captains hoping for glory this weekend – for very different reasons
Everyone deserves a second chance and 19-year-old Italian-Australian Nicholas Pennington is no different.
The Cagliari Calcio youth team captain reunites with his teammates in Hong Kong for the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens after a whirlwind year which saw him banned for six months for an altercation with a referee and later loaned out to a Serie C outfit in Italy.
Pennington was sent off for “threatening and violent conduct” in a reserves match against Palermo in May of last year. The referee had given a second yellow card to a Cagliari teammate for kicking the ball away, infuriating captain Pennington, who lightly pushed the referee and then tried to take the red card out of his hands as it was being brandished.
“I was the captain so I went to talk to the referee, and as I was talking, I touched him,” the midfielder said. “I didn’t do anything much.
“He told me, ‘You don’t have to touch me’ and I said I touched him very gently – not in a bad way – and he sent me off. I got angry but it was the last game of the season. I won’t do anything like that again.”
Pennington’s ban originally lasted until the end of October 2017 but he was retroactively pardoned by the Italian Football Federation.
He was loaned to Olbia Calcio in August, scoring his first professional goal in February this year and establishing himself as a first-team starter.
He returned to Cagliari at the end of the Italian football season and hopes he can set a better example by leading his team to glory this weekend.
“It was great to get first team football,” he said. “Getting that experience in quite a top league helped a lot – it’s completely different from youth football.
“I’m proud to be captain but I share [the responsibility] with the team; we do everything together. The coaches back home won’t be watching me in particular, but if I do well for the team then it’s good.
“It feels good to represent our team in [Hong Kong],” Pennington added. “Cagliari is quite a small city so we’re not used to so many people, but it’s still very nice and I’m very lucky to experience it.”
Another young leader looking to stay on the coaching staff’s radar is Joshua Pask of West Ham United, who was on cusp of first-team football under recently-departed manager David Moyes.
“I was with [Moyes] for a couple of games this year on the bench,” said the 20-year-old defender. “Having that experience to get to know the manager, who trusts you to come into the squad and make an impact … it’s a shame he’s gone now but hopefully we can get a new manager in and look forward to better times at West Ham.”
Former Everton and Manchester United boss Moyes left the Hammers after six months in charge of the club having guided them to safety in the Premier League. The Scot has a reputation for encouraging youth development and including promising players in his squad.
“I was a fan of his,” said Pask, who spent the end of last season training with the first team. “He brought me in and I was training a lot more.
“Certain managers have their favourites and some like to bring young players through – some don’t. Regardless, you go out there to impress. Maybe the new manager comes in and I impress him. The main goal [for next season] is to get into the main squad.”
Pask and Co will settle for nothing but the trophy during his week in Hong Kong, especially having come so close in the past.
“I’m not new to this tournament but I’m definitely new to the heat again,” he said, smiling. “I came here three years ago and we came second – the same last year. We’re looking to win so hopefully we can go one better this time.
“Obviously [Moyes] is gone now so whenever you play you’re looking to impress the figures above. It’s no different this time.”
Cagliari will face Kitchee (Hong Kong), HKFC Captain’s Select (Hong Kong) and Aston Villa (England) in the group stages on Saturday.
West Ham will face Yau Yee League Select (Hong Kong), Kashima Antlers (Japan) and Wellington Phoenix (New Zealand).