Pennant 'at crossroads' after jail sentence

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Jermaine Pennant was always an accident waiting to happen. Fortunately, it was a lamp-post that the 22-year-old Arsenal winger ran a Mercedes-Benz car into, one drunken night in January, rather than a pedestrian or another vehicle.

Jermaine Pennant was always an accident waiting to happen. Fortunately, it was a lamp-post that the 22-year-old Arsenal winger ran a Mercedes-Benz car into, one drunken night in January, rather than a pedestrian or another vehicle.

Yesterday Pennant was jailed for three months by magistrates in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. He bowed and shook his head as sentence was passed. It must be hoped that was through self-reproach, although a friend in court shouted out "that's a joke" when Pennant was taken down.

It certainly was. After all, the young footballer, earning £10,000-a-week, was two an a half times over the limit when he was found by police - bewildered, glassy-eyed, slurring his speech and offering a made-up name - in a leisure centre car park with the aforementioned lamp-post dragging behind. It was 6am and he had already been banned for 16 months for a previous drink-driving incident, having been found heading the wrong way up a road.

To add to the Footballers Wives-style incredulity of the latest episode Pennant had got lost because the satellite navigation system in the car was malfunctioning. He was on his way to Bristol from Barnet to meet his girlfriend's father, having been up until 4.30am drinking at the Embassy Bar in central London. He had had no sleep and goodness knows his state of mind. It was Sunday 23 January and Arsenal were playing Newcastle United hours later. Pennant was depressed at having been, again, omitted.

It should never have happened. Pennant should have been in the North-east. He should have been in that Arsenal squad, in that Arsenal team even. After all, this was a player who was bought by the club's manager, Arsène Wenger - never one to waste cash - for £2m from Notts County aged just 16. He was then the country's most expensive teenager. In making his debut later that year, Pennant became the then youngest player in Arsenal's history - but had to wait until 2003 to start in the Premiership. He promptly scored a hat-trick but never convinced Wenger. Pennant was loaned out - to Watford and then Leeds United.

When he was arrested he was on the verge of another deal-- to go to Birmingham City. That subsequently went through and last night the club said they would stay loyal to him. "We hope that Jermaine will accept his punishment and hope he learns from this mistake," declared Birmingham's managing director, Karren Brady. "He is a talented young person and upon his release we will give him all the help and support he needs."

Unfortunately, it is a familiar refrain where Pennant is concerned. He was forced into an apology after breaking a curfew while on England Under-21 duty - and then was sent off for throwing a punch. His attitude and application have been constantly questioned. Pennant always believed he was going to be a star but clubbing, at times, mattered more than the club. Perhaps his misdemeanours come from the frustration of not breaking through at Highbury, where his five-year contract soon expires. Arsenal are not going to sack him - but there will not be a new deal either.

There is further mitigation in his upbringing. An insight was offered last weekend by the Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas. He, like Pennant, was born in Clifton, a tough neighbourhood of Nottingham, and the two remain friends. While Jenas was fortunate to have parental support, Pennant was left virtually to fend for himself, coming off the rails as a youngster at Nottingham Forest. "You sympathise with him sometimes," Jenas said. Some might argue that such a background should have made him less likely to behave badly.

In court yesterday, his solicitor, Barry Warburton, described the "intermittent" schooling Pennant, who had raised three siblings after his mother had left home, received. "When he arrived at Arsenal, he had very little reading and writing skills. They have in fact educated him," Mr Warburton said. Even so, Pennant's aunt still reads his post and, Mr Warburton claimed, had told him that a DVLA letter had declared his licence reinstated and he could drive again. It had not.

Pennant pleaded guilty at last month's hearing to charges of drink-driving, driving while disqualified and using a vehicle without insurance. Magistrate John Jakobi, jailing him, said: "You have just completed a drink-driving rehabilitation course... There is no reasonable excuse." His solicitor returned to court to ask for bail - which was refused - while an appeal is lodged. Imprisonment, he said, "could completely destroy his career". Or, perhaps, make it.

"It's a crossroads - I hope he has the strength to come out of it," said Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association. Pennant's agent, Sky Andrew, said he had "no doubt" that he would "bounce back an even stronger person". One thing is for sure. Pennant needs to.