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Dale Jennings Happy To Swap Bayern For Barnsley

DALE Jennings easily recalls the day in May 2011 when he heard that Bayern Munich wanted to buy him.

“Les Parry, the Tranmere manager, pulled me into his office,” says the Scouser, who, then 18, had just been named League One apprentice of the year after a debut season studded with wonder-goals and match-winning performances.

“I knew there’d been people watching me, so I did wonder if it was an offer. Then he said ‘We’ve heard that Bayern Munich are putting a bid in’.

“I couldn’t believe it. They’re the best team in the world so you obviously never imagine they’d even think about signing a young lad from Tranmere.

“I had a lot of interest from a lot of teams, but as soon as I found out Bayern were one of them, I just said ‘Tell everyone else no – that’s where I’m going’. I wasn’t bothered about wages or length of contract or anything like that. I just wanted to sign.”

For Jennings, whose laddish lifestyle saw him squander an apprenticeship at Liverpool, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make up for lost time.

Yet two years on from that £1.8m switch, the 20-year-old signed for Barnsley, his time in Germany fatally undermined by injury, homesickness and rank bad luck.

“I had three injuries in my first year,” explains Jennings, who played in Germany’s regional leagues with Bayern Munich II.

“The first was a hernia in my groin. I had an operation, came back, and three weeks later did my groin again. And six weeks after that I did my ankle which kept me out for a while. I think that was just about the worst possible start I could’ve had to my Bayern career.

“Then in the second year, when I was fit, Mehmet Scholl replaced Andries Jonker as manager and he wasn’t really having me.

“That was tough. Andries signed me because he liked me, and I played with that in mind. But when you’ve got to prove yourself from scratch, and you don’t know if the new manager even likes you or if you fit in with his style of play, it’s hard to play with confidence.”

Jennings, who couldn’t drive, or speak German, also struggled hugely with life off the pitch.

“I’d just turned 18 and it wasn’t easy to settle,” he explains. “The lifestyle, the culture – I really didn’t like the way the Germans did things. I’d never lived away from Liverpool let alone England, so it was a massive culture shock.

“The language was obviously the biggest problem. I did quite a few lessons, six months I think. But I wasn’t really getting anywhere so eventually Andries Jonker said ‘Look, most of the lads speak English anyway so just concentrate on the football’.

“Looking back, I think the injuries did spoil that side of things as well. If I hadn’t spent so much time out, I’d have spent more time around the lads and that might have helped me fit in and pick up the language.

“And my head wasn’t right. Every time I got fit again, another problem would pop up. It plays on your mind and I was thinking ‘This isn’t meant to be’.

“I was down on myself with injuries, thinking ‘Here we go again, it’s another nightmare’. Once you’ve got that mindset you don’t play to the best of your ability.

Faster

“Part of being a good player is enjoying what you’re doing and if you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy on the pitch. That was a big, big factor for me.”

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Jennings chatted with Arjen Robben, trained with Franck Ribery and scored in a first-team friendly featuring David Alaba and Luis Gustavo.

“German football is faster and more physical,” says Jennings, whose decision to leave Bayern was made easier when girlfriend Holly fell pregnant with daughter Mila, now five months old.

“And on the technical side, it’s on a different level – I think I learned a lot.

“I watched Ribery all the time and he did the simple things so well. He never made a mistake and he worked so hard. Robben would also spend hours after training on his shooting or his crossing. It made you realise what’s needed to be one of the best in the world.

“It’s why I don’t regret it at all. I could spend my life saying ‘What if this, What if that?’ But I’m glad I tried and I’m glad I was able to learn from the likes of Robben and Ribery.

“I’m only 21, so I’ve got a long time to go. It’s not like I was 28-29 and it was my last shot at playing for a big club. I’ve just got to do well for myself and what will come will come.”

In the short term, that is Barnsley. Signed by the Championship strugglers in the summer, Jennings was deemed unfit by manager David Flitcroft and spent a month on loan at MK Dons under his former Liverpool youth coach Karl Robinson.

Recalled when Flitcroft was replaced by Danny Wilson, he has since made eight straight starts and last weekend scored his first goal in England for almost three years with a spectacular winner against Nottingham Forest.

“I was absolutely made up to score, absolutely buzzing,” says the winger. “I think some people were starting to think I wouldn’t be able to play at Championship level, so it’s good to start proving them wrong.

Expectation

“It was a big win. We’re struggling at the moment, so it is difficult. It’s not a position anyone wants to be in but all we can do is keep fighting, keep trying to nick results. We all believe we can stay up.”

And while Oakwell can hardly match the Allianz Arena for glitz and glamour, Jennings is relishing being able to ply his trade away from the spotlight.

“At Tranmere, I was such a young age and there was so much hype and pressure,” he says.

“Some people thrive off expectation, but it was a lot to take on and I felt that a little bit when I came to Barnsley as well.

“Because I’d been at Bayern people expected a lot and when you’re 19-20, it can stop you enjoying yourself and doing your best on the pitch.

“When I was younger, it was quite hard to deal with. Now I’m a little bit older and more settled, I don’t mind really.

“I want to stand out and be the best player on the pitch. Not to fulfil anyone else’s expectations but for myself.”

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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