Dale Jennings: The former Bayern Munich wonderkid beset by off-field battles

Reza Alfian Maulana

Dale Jennings is a player whose career is defined by his failure to break through at Bayern Munich, but whose story is so much more complicated.

In 2011, Bayern moved to sign 18-year-old Jennings from English third-tier side Tranmere Rovers in a £1.8 million ($2.1m) deal. After being released by Liverpool as a youngster, he moved to Tranmere at age 15 and broke into the first team in September 2010.

Over the course of the 2010-11 season, he made 29 appearances in League One, scoring six goals. Slight and quick, Jennings was used across the front line, his two-footedness seeing him deployed on both flanks.

As is the way of the English media, he was soon being likened to the nation’s best talents of the day, called ‘the next Joe Cole’ in one instance. However, after winning the League One Apprentice of the Year award in his one full season in the Tranmere first-team, and amid Bayern’s interest, the hype seemed justified.

Tranmere manager Les Parry told the club‘s official website: "Bayern have made us a very good offer for Dale and we don't want to stand in his way of making this incredible move.

"When a club with the size and history of Bayern come in for you, it's the opportunity of a lifetime and I wish Dale all the best should the transfer happen.”

The deal went through, Jennings signing for Bayern the same summer as Manuel Neuer.

While the future Germany No.1 went into the Munich first team, the young Englishman was assigned to the second team, playing in Germany’s fourth tier, to gain experience.

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However Jennings never settled in Germany, injury and homesickness both hampering any chance of progression.

"I tried to learn the language for about six months but I struggled," Jennings told BBC Sport in 2018.

"I felt it was affecting my play as I was too worried about trying to learn to speak German rather than putting the performances in on the pitch.

"It got a bit too much for me and the club told me just to concentrate on my football."

The scale of Jennings’ injury troubles, as told by the man himself to the Leg It Podcast earlier this year, were quite staggering even at the early stage of his career – to the extent that he initially failed his medical at Bayern.

“I had a hernia on my groin, I was out for three months [after signing for Bayern] and then did my other side. Then, I did the ligaments in my ankles. It was a bit of a nightmare of a first year.

“I failed it [the medical at Bayern] and they didn’t want to sign me. My agent, he did well, he asked them: ‘You’re the best medical staff in the world, and you’re failing him over a hernia?’ They said, we can look after him, and they put it through.’”

Now rubbing shoulders with Arjen Robben, Philipp Lahm and more at Bayern, Jennings admits he felt at this point as if he had made it.

He told the Daily Mail in 2018: “I remember putting the Bayern kit on for the first time, running out onto the training pitch, looked down and sort of laughed at myself, like, wow.

“I was like, ‘How has this happened?’ I was immature at the time. I just thought, ‘This is going to last forever.' I thought I was better when I wasn’t. No one is bigger than football.

“I’ve got that into my head now. You beat yourself up about it sometimes. You think, ‘What if I did this differently, what if I had a different attitude to doing that?’ I’m more mature now.”

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As the knocks and inability to settle mounted up, Bayern chose to cut their losses. Just 18 months into his three-year deal in Germany, Jennings was sold to Barnsley for £250,000 ($300,000) in June 2013.

He played 50 games across two seasons in Yorkshire, before injuries took their toll again. He was released by Barnsley, had a fleeting stint at MK Dons, spent more than two years without a club following his release, before dropping into non-league.

At 29, Jennings plays for Prescot Cables in his native north-west England, and it would be simple – which here means lazy – to write him off as a failure. There’s more to it than that.

The two-year stint outside of football came when his daughter Mila was suffering from leukaemia, before a couple of years later being diagnosed with another form of cancer.

“Football became irrelevant then,” he told The Athletic last year. “We went through these horrible two years.

“She fought that and got the all-clear and then two months later she was diagnosed with a Wilms tumour in her kidney.

"It was nothing to do with leukaemia – a different type of cancer altogether. By the age of six she’d had cancer twice.

“She has had chemo, radiotherapy and the tumour removed. It’s unbelievable what she’s been through for a little kid. Makes me feel embarrassed for feeling bad for myself when my knee was injured.

“I often get tagged in stories or tweets about people who blew their big break or football’s forgotten wonderkids. It used to make me really angry. They don’t know the story.

"I’ve had an alright career – I know it could have been better so far but there are reasons why.”

You can check in on more of GOAL's Forgotten Men here.