Dale Jennings: From Bayern to Barnsley

Posted on August 15, 2013

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This article originally appeared on these Football times.

The short career of Dale Jennings has seen more vicissitudes than most players his age.  The 20-year-old has endured the lows of rejection when Liverpool released him as a schoolboy and then enjoyed the highs of a £1.8 million move to Bayern Munich.  After two years in Germany, Jennings returned to England this summer as Barnsley snapped up the exciting, young winger for £250,000.

As a schoolboy, Jennings showed a lot of potential but was released at the age of 15 by Liverpool, seemingly because of his attitude.  Like many young players who have experienced that heart-breaking situation, Jennings spent time on trial with clubs in the lower leagues.

Tranmere Rovers

Not giving up on his dream of playing professional football, Jennings was given a second chance by League One side, Tranmere Rovers after impressing in a trial period.  Hard work and raw talent had secured Jennings the chance to play professionally again.

Dale grabbed the opportunity with both hands and worked his way up Tranmere’s youth ranks and into the reserve side.  Tranmere have a good reputation for developing their youth players and offering those with the ability and attitude to match, a path to the first team.  Jennings made his breakthrough to the first team during the 2010-2011 League One campaign.

Then Rovers manager, Les Parry gave Jennings his first team debut in that formative season and the young winger went on to make 25 appearances for Tranmere in League One, scoring 6 goals and grabbing 3 assists.  Once again, it was the raw ability of Jennings that captured the eye as he caused chaos down the left wing with his dribbling ability and no doubt giving several full-backs nightmares in the process.

The exuberance of youth often allows players the freedom to play their game without fear and Jennings certainly did that.  He utilised his pace and dribbling ability to cut through opposition defences and his quality performances were being closely monitored by bigger clubs, some of which a youngster could only have dreamt about.

Jennings capped a wonderful debut season in the Tranmere first team by winning the League One Apprentice of the Year Award in March 2011 at the Football League Awards.  The young winger had beaten off competition from players like Southampton’s, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take the trophy.  Jennings was clearly happy with this victory and thanked the staff at Tranmere for their hard work as he stated:

“I am so happy to have won. Just to be one of the final three was great.

“Everyone at the Centre of Excellence has really pushed me and helped me to get into first team and I would like to thank them for their support.”

Dale had shown the right attitude and work ethic to make it in the professional game and at the end of the 2010/2011 season, his hard work was beginning to pay off.  Tranmere’s youth coach, Shaun Garnett spoke of Jennings potential to BBC Radio Merseyside after the players triumph at the Football League Awards, saying:

“Dale has dealt with the rejection in the past in a positive way and he’s come back a better player.

“Dale has a great story for any boy who suffers rejection. We picked Dale up when he was 15, having been released from Liverpool and having down the rounds at other clubs.

“He came to us on trial and right away he was as good as we had and you could see the potential from the start.”

However, this was just the start for Jennings.  His breakthrough season had been closely monitored by scouts from bigger clubs and he was about to discover, to his surprise, exactly who had been chasing him.

Bayern Munich

To the surprise of many, German giants and now five times European Cup winners, Bayern Munich had been monitoring Jennings progress at Tranmere, amongst several other Premier League clubs in England.  The Bavarian side were to pay Rovers £1.8 million in a structured deal for his signature, a total fee which shows just how highly regarded the young winger was at his former club.

The transfer attracted great interest from the English press.  Whilst it was not the most high profile or bank breaking move of the summer, for a young, English player to be signed up by Bayern Munich was cause for a media frenzy.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime for Dale and one he couldn’t have expected in his wildest dreams.

For a relatively unknown player, it would be a very tough task for Jennings to displace the world class talent that littered the Bayern first team, with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry occupying the wide positions.  As his first port of call, Jennings set out to impress in the reserve side, Bayern Munich II, who played in the German fourth division, but injury problems hampered his early progress.  Shortly after he signed for Bayern, he found himself on the operating table to undergo surgery on a groin injury which kept him on the sidelines.  Obviously this was a disappointing start to life in Germany, especially for the player himself and meant it would take him longer to settle in the team.

It would prove to be a truly unfortunate first season in Bavaria for Jennings.  After his initial groin problem, he returned to full fitness and started the next seven games for Bayern Munich II.  However, injury was to interrupt his progress yet again as he suffered a serious tear to his ankle ligaments which kept him out for the majority of his debut season.

Dale Jennings battling for possession whilst playing for Bayern Munich II

Dale Jennings battling for possession whilst playing for Bayern Munich II

In football terms, Jennings adapted well to life in Germany.  The fact that the ball remains on the floor places a lot more emphasis on the technical ability and movement of the players and this suited the young Englishman.  Bayern’s 4-3-3 formation, the focus on getting the ball wide and the tutelage of Bayern legend Mehmet Scholl all had a positive impact on Dale’s game, turning him into an out-and-out winger in a similar mould to Robben or Ribéry.  Jennings reflected on this difference in style and how it suited him when he spoke to The Independent:

“It’s a completely different style of football… It’s more technical, there’s more passing and moving than you see back home.

“It has helped me a lot.  Back in England I was playing against 6ft defenders and the ball was always in the air which made it hard going.”

He went on to talk about the opinions of his Bayern team mates:

“You ask the other players and they haven’t got a very high opinion of the English game, they’ll tell you it’s all kick and rush. They say that England has some good players but it’s the style they’ve got a problem with.”

Despite Jennings obvious ability with a ball at his feet, he did not adapt as well to everyday life in Germany.  His struggles to grasp the language in Bavaria proved to be a stumbling block for the young Liverpudlian and alongside his injury troubles made it even more difficult for him to truly settle at Bayern.

At the end of the 2012/2013 campaign Jennings was allowed to leave Bayern after two years on the continent.  He had struggled with the language and the massive cultural differences in Germany, being the only Englishman in a squad of mostly Germans and Austrians with one German-born American must have taken it’s toll on the young man, who no doubt missed home.

His ability on the pitch was never in doubt and his time with Bayern had benefitted his game substantially, especially when you consider how successful Bayern’s style of play has been, both in Europe and domestically.  However, after making a total of 36 appearances for Bayern Munich II over two seasons, Jennings felt it was time for him to return home.

Return to England

Dale Jennings in action for new club Barnsley

Dale Jennings in action for new club, Barnsley

South Yorkshire side, Barnsley were lucky enough to snap up Jennings for £250,000 this summer and there is no doubt they have signed a hugely talented player.  However, he didn’t get off to the best of starts, making his Championship debut for The Tykes last weekend against Wigan Athletic.  And what a debut it was, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.

Jennings was shown a straight red card for a two footed challenge on James McCarthy just minutes after his introduction as a second half substitute.  Despite a poor start to the season, it’s still very early in the season and there is a lot of football to be played in the Championship.  The future prospects for the young winger still burn brightly and the opportunity to play first team football will be key to his continued development.

Jennings has all the ability to take the Championship by storm this season, if he can maintain his fitness and perform to the level that his potential has promised.  There is every chance he can go on to even better things.  All he has to do is look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player he beat to the League One Apprentice of the Year Award back in March 2011, for inspiration.  The Ox has gone on to play for Arsenal and England at the highest level and this could indeed be the path for Jennings to follow.

 By Jamie Allen

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