Rejected by Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton as a teenager, an established member of the Tranmere Rovers first-team at the age of 18 and just a year later snapped up by German football giants Bayern Munich. Aleks Klosok reports on the remarkable and somewhat unexpected fortunes of Dale Jennings.
Keegan, Lineker, Lambert, Platt and Waddle. Now you can add the name Jennings to that prestigious – albeit short – list of British footballers that have broken away from home comforts and make a success of playing in Europe His move – unforeseen by many in English football circles – comes at a crucial stage in his development both as a player and a person and unlike his predecessors, Jennings’ journey from Prenton Park to the Allianz Arena has been nothing short of intriguing.
The winger-come-striker’s career has, up till now, been far from straightforward. Within the space of three years, Jennings went from witnessing the inspiring surroundings of Anfield and Goodison Park as a teenager trainee, to having to seek an alternative route to the highest echelon of English football via the lower leagues having been turned down by both Merseyside clubs.
Rejection came as a bitter blow but an opportunity to rekindle his career was duly afforded to him by Npower Football League One side Tranmere Rovers. During his three-year spell at Prenton Park, Jennings shot to prominence under the gaze of manager-come-physio Les Parry, breaking into the first-team set-up and in the process producing a number of eye-catching displays to alert top-flights clubs across Europe – chief amongst them FC Bayern Munich.
Somewhat surprisingly, Die Bayern have no dedicated scouting network in England – specifically aimed at monitoring the Premier League. Therefore, it is even more startling that the four-time European Cup winners, who were originally tracking the progress of the Everton left-back Leighton Baines, should be drawn towards the attention of a teenager in Npower Football League One.
So what did former Bayern Munich midfielder now General Manager, Christian Nerlinger, see in the relatively unknown Jennings? What the two-time Bundesliga winner would have gathered from watching the 2011 Npower Football League One Apprentice of the Year was his versatility and direct style of play. In the thirty appearances he amassed for The Super Whites, Jennings was capable of playing on the flanks or as a central striker. Moreover his turn of pace, fearlessness in taking on defenders with his trickery and low centre of gravity, made him difficult to defend against.
All these attributes, along with the reported transfer fee of £1,800,000, made him a highly attractive proposition for a club renowned in European football for producing and developing promising young footballers. One only has to take a glance at the current crop of Bayern Munich first-team players to see evidence of this. Defenders Holger Badstuber and current club and national team captain Phillip Lahm, midfielder Toni Kroos and striker Thomas Müller are all products of the club’s youth system and an integral part of the German national team set-up under coach Joachim Löw.
More significantly, this trend is being replicated by a host of German clubs, chief amongst them Borussia Dortmund who in recent years have see defender Marcel Schmelzer and teenage midfield sensation Mario Götze earn international caps. However, despite his move to the German capital, the call of England will never be too far away.
Jennings will continue to be on the radar of the Football Association who very much see the youngster as a potential England international star of the future. They, alongside England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce, will be liaising closely with representatives from the Bavarian club to monitor his progress. The same will go for the current England Under-21 captain and utility man Michael Mancienne who followed in Jennings’ footsteps by joining Hamburg from Chelsea and thus once again teaming up with current Hamburg Sporting Director Frank Arnesen with whom he worked with at Stamford Bridge.
The example of Owen Hargreaves, who began his career at Bayern and spent ten seasons at the club, will provide comfort for both players in knowing that playing abroad will not hinder eithers chances of representing the national team.
Nerlinger has stated that Jennings will begin his career in Germany at Bayern Munich II and that his progression towards consideration for a place in the first-team squad will be dependent upon his progress at Kleine Bayern.
He will undoubtedly look for inspiration at the examples of Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller who, in recent years, all trod a similar path. In the short-term, at least, Jennings will be aiming to help Bayern Munich’s second team seek a swift return to the more challenging 3rd Liga from the fourth tier of German football, the Regionalliga Süd.
Following a successful operation to repair a hernia problem, which was discovered soon after he joined the Bavarian outfit, the diminutive player made his long awaited debut in early September – coming on as a substitute in a 3-2 home defeat to SG Sonnenhof Grossaspach. The 19-year-old went on to start the next seven games, demonstrating tentative grounds for optimism in each one, but his hopes of making a notable impression on the side that are currently lying in a lowly 12th position – just seven points off bottom-placed club Bayern Alzenau – were dashed when in late October it was revealed that Jennings had suffered multiple ligament tears in his ankle. He’s expected to remain on the sidelines until March of this year when the Regionalliga Süd resumes once again following its long winter break.
Few could have foreseen the remarkable set of events that have occurred in the life of Dale Jennings. Whilst his move abroad represents a risk, Jennings has made a bold decision to escape an acceptance of Lower League insularity and instead embark upon a European adventure that will open him up to a new way of life and an alternative approach to football. Perhaps more English players should challenge themselves and take a similar leap of faith into the unknown.
By Aleks Klosok
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona