Pennant claims Benitez is biased against English players

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The Independent Online

Jermaine Pennant is looking forward to kicking off his Portsmouth career in tomorrow's FA Cup clash with Swansea after claiming being English made it hard for him to win favour with Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.

Former teenage prodigy Pennant, 26 last week, arrived at Pompey on a six-month loan deal after finding himself out in the cold at Anfield since October.

Although he joined Arsenal for a £2m fee from home-town club Notts County 10 years ago and became their youngest player in a competitive match at just over 16, he was rarely given a chance by manager Arsene Wenger.

Pennant had loan spells at Watford and Leeds before joining Birmingham who sold him to Liverpool for £6m in 2005.

He forced his way into a star-studded team and played in a Champions League final.

But this season, after coming back from a broken leg, Pennant made just three starts for the Reds - the last in a 1-0 win over Portsmouth in their new manager Tony Adams' first match in charge - and claims he was a victim of manager Rafael Benitez's preference for foreign talent.

He said: "I don't know what it is with me and Rafa. He knows I've got the ability and that I'm capable of playing in his team.

"But when you find yourself suddenly training on your own - when all the other boys are out there - and it's just a couple of years after playing in a Champions League final, you've got to wonder where you are going.

"A lot of people at Liverpool told me they can't understand why I've not even been given a sniff of a chance even on the bench, and I don't know either because I played 34 games last season and suddenly I can't get in."

Pennant told Sky Sports he felt his career was "rotting away" in Liverpool's reserves and that he simply had to review his options.

"I've come here to Portsmouth to do a job for them and when my contract is finished in July then the world's my oyster," he said.

"I don't think Liverpool will be watching or coming back for me. They can't say anything to me really.

"All I've said to Rafa in the last couple of seasons is 'good morning' and things like that, but you can't knock him. It's his team and he's won plenty of trophies, including the Champions League.

"But it does look as if, apart from the obvious ones, you stand a better chance of being in the team there if you are a foreigner."

Adams was firmly established as Arsenal and England captain when Pennant arrived at Highbury from Notts County.

"He's always been a quality talent," the Pompey boss said.

"Signing a player like Jermaine wasn't a major priority but he's a major addition to the squad.

"I've no fears about him not having played for a while because he's bright and quick and naturally fit."

Adams is glad to have Pennant available, particularly after a scan revealed that Croatia midfielder Niko Kranjcar has torn a groin muscle and is likely to be out long-term.

Kranjcar, who has already admitted he expects to be sold by Pompey in the summer, missed the beginning of the current campaign following an ankle operation and has made only 10 starts since returning in November.

"It looks a bad one and we'll miss him for what I believe will be quite a while," said Adams.

Regarding tomorrow's FA Cup fourth-round tie against Coca-Cola Championship Swansea at Fratton Park, Adams added: "They are playing probably some of their best football in the division at the moment. They destroyed Reading last week with their passing in a 4-3-3 set up.

"I don't think I can give them bigger praise than that and although we'll start favourites as the holders we've got to stay as resilient as we have been in the last few games to avoid being punished."

Adams has dismissed fears that his England goalkeeper David James is only playing on thanks to a painkilling injection in his knee.

Adams told the Portsmouth News: "He will be absolutely fine and I can't imagine he won't play tomorrow.

"He doesn't need an operation and probably doesn't need another injection either."

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