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'Real Madrid agreed to sign me, but I ended up at Portsmouth!' - Ex-Liverpool winger Pennant reveals failed Blancos move

21:49 GMT 06/01/2020
Jermaine Pennant Liverpool
The veteran winger has played for 15 clubs during his playing career - and the Spanish giants were very nearly one of them

Former Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant says he was close to leaving the Merseyside club for Real Madrid 11 years ago, but the deal collapsed and he ended up at Portsmouth instead.

The 36-year-old joined Liverpool from Birmingham in the summer of 2006 but by January 2009, as he entered the last six months of his contract, it became increasingly clear that his future lay away from Anfield.

Pennant has now revealed that Los Blancos had agreed to take him to Spain, but Real boss Juande Ramos cancelled the move once he became aware of the deal.

The winger instead joined Portsmouth, then of the Premier League, for the remainder for the 2008-09 season.

“When I was at Liverpool, Real Madrid came to sign me in my last year of contract. (agent) Sky Andrew held negotiations with the president and he gave the green light to the agreement for about €4 million (£3m/$4m),” Pennant told El Periodico de Aragon.

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

Pennant returned to Liverpool at the end of the campaign but was released following the expiry of his contract.

It was then that he did finally make his move to Spain, signing a three-year deal with Real Zaragoza.

“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,” he added.

“I knew about Zaragoza. I had that memory of watching Nayim's goal against Arsenal in the (1995 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."

Despite his high-profile arrival, Pennant’s time in Spain was dominated by his off-field activities, which saw him fined after partying with friends in Marbella without the club's permission.  

He made just two La Liga appearances before returning to the Premier League with Stoke in the summer of 2010.

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

“It was a difficult culture to adapt to - especially siestas. 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. 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.

“I knew [team-mate Frank Songo’o] from his time at Portsmouth, 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.

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

“[Zaragoza club doctor] 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 in. When I arrived I made him believe that I was asleep and could not answer the door. He was a lovely person and I feel bad about it now.

“Another time 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 I missed the flight back, did not attend training and the press learned that I had been there. The nightclub where I was published on its 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. I deserved it.

"The truth is that my life in Zaragoza was absolute madness.”