Jermaine Pennant: Real Madrid agreed to sign me, but instead I went to Portsmouth

Former winger Jermaine Pennant has revealed Real Madrid agreed to sign him in January 2009 but he joined Portsmouth instead.

Pennant played 13 league matches for Portsmouth without scoring a goal and he was not offered a new contract by Liverpool, his parent club at the time, following his return.

That allowed him to finally move to Spanish football as he joined Real Zaragoza who were then in La Liga and despite making 26 appearances that season, he failed to score a goal and left the club the following year to join Stoke City.

“When I was at Liverpool, Real Madrid came to sign me in my last year of contract. Sky Andrew (his agent) held negotiations with the president and he gave the green light to the agreement for about €4m,” Pennant explained in an extensive interview in El Periodico de Aragon.

“But Juande Ramos (Madrid boss at the time) was not aware of that operation. So when he found out he decided to knock the deal down. I went from Madrid to Portsmouth. A big change.”

Pennant did end up at Zaragoza the following year, as he then describes: “I was free. I had offers in England but when Sky told me there was an option to go to Spain I said 'wow, that's very cool'. I thought my style of play would fit well in La Liga.

“I knew about Zaragoza. I had that memory of watching Nayim's goal against Arsenal on the (Cup Winners) Cup Final on TV. It was one of those clubs that you remember at the time when you talk about Spanish football. So it was an option that I found very attractive.

“I was treated like a star. I had not experienced something like when I was introduced. It was an experience I did not imagine. In England you go out, they take a picture of you with the scarf and that's it. 

“There were a lot of people there in Zaragoza…I don't know, maybe 2,000 people? It was a shock. Zaragoza fans were very excited about my arrival.

“My Spanish was very bad, really. I made the effort to try to learn, but it was impossible. I managed to say a few words about football, I remember that of 'two beers, please'. My translator, whose name was Fernando, helped me a lot.

“It was a difficult culture to adapt to – especially at the time of napping. I remember going to look for a restaurant to eat and everything was closed. They would be napping. So I ended up eating at the Burger King (laughs). Then I got used to the traditions and the city. It was beautiful, very traditional and cultural, although I didn't like the nightlife much.”

Pennant however is remembered in Spain for his lifestyle away from the pitch and partying.

“Oh my God. Frank Songo'o, my dear Frankie. I knew about his time at Porstmouth, so it was easy to understand me because he was one of the few who knew English. We didn't play much, so we caught a train to Madrid or Barcelona to have a good time,” continued Pennant.

“Together with him I lived one of the craziest nights in Spain, a terrible trip to Barcelona. We went because we had some girls and we took the train at 6.30 in the morning to get to train. But it was delayed and we were in trouble. 

“Dr. Villanueva kept calling me to see where I was. I did not answer. My translator told me that he had been around my house and saw that there was no one. When I arrived I made him believe that he was asleep and could not answer him. He was a lovely person and I feel bad about it now.”

But there were other incidents too, as he went on to describe.

“The Marbella thing…I had told the club that I had to go back to my house with my family to solve some personal matters. They gave me permission, but instead I went with all my friends from England to Marbella. They were amazing nights. But it didn't work out. I missed the flight back, did not attend the training and the press learned that I had been there. The nightclub where I was published on his website some pictures of me partying, it was bad.

“The club found out and hit me a tremendous fine. The general manager came and told me that that was not acceptable and I was fined €150k – my salary for a month. The night was fine, but I think I got a little expensive (laughs). I deserved it. The truth is that my life in Zaragoza was absolute madness.”

Pennant – who retired from football in 2017 – made over 300 appearances for 15 clubs and scored 24 goals in his career, although he was never capped at senior level for England.

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