Englishman Dale Jennings made the kind of transfer move many young footballers dream of. One year ago, the talented 19-year-old left the relative obscurity of Tranmere Rovers, a third division club based in the north-west of England for the heady heights of record German champions Bayern Munich, arguably one of the most famous and most successful clubs in world football.
After suffering the disappointment of being released from 5-time European champions Liverpool as a schoolboy, Jennings grasped an opportunity with neighbours Tranmere Rovers and never looked back. In 2010 he made a big impression during his sole season with the first team. Blessed with blistering pace, close ball control and an ability to score goals with either foot, Jennings is the type of striker who thrives on running at defenders and scoring spectacular goals. Those goals grabbed the attention of Bayern Munich scouts who offered the teenager a dream move to the Bavarian capital.
Jennings recalls how the move to Bavaria transpired. "The manager [Les Parry] called me in to his office and told me of Bayern's interest. So I started talking to Bayern and it went from there." At first Jennings was surprised by the interest, and he suspected the whole thing was an elaborate wind-up. "When the manager pulled me in, he's the type to have a joke with you so I thought he was messing around with my head. Once I started speaking to Christian Nerlinger (former Director of Football) at Bayern, then it started to become real."
It hasn't all been plain sailing though. Since signing for Bayern, Jennings suffered a nasty ankle injury which left him on the sidelines for six months. By the end of April this year his fitness was back to around 80% and he did manage some playing time under former reserve team manager Andries Jonker. This season former Bayern and Germany legend Mehmet Scholl has taken charge of the reserve team. Scholl played 334 games for Bayern during a 15-year period and is more than familiar with the club and the way it operates.
Scholl will naturally have his own style and his own ideas about how the team will play and from the season so far, Jennings has noticed a definite change in playing style. "He's changed the formation and I think we're more direct. Under Andries Jonker we were hitting long balls so it was more difficult last year." Last season the team finished up in a disappointing 14th place.
Jennings was an unused substitute in the opening match of the Regionalliga Bayern 2012/13 season (formerly known as Regionalliga Süd) but last week against Heimstetten he was given 45 minutes of the second half to show off his talents to the new boss. Every player at this level wants to impress and the standard is very good, so how will Jennings force his way into the starting line-up? "He's [Scholl] just told me to keep working hard and take my chance when it comes so I've got to keep working hard and hopefully when I get the chance, impress him" says Jennings. "I've not come here to sit on the bench."
"I've had a good pre-season and I've lost a couple of pounds. I've still got a bit more to go but I'm getting there. I'm not 100% fit, I'm at around 80-85% so I think I've got to work hard to get back into the team now,'' he added.
Jennings is quite a handful for opposition defences to cope with. The 'Scouser' went close to scoring on a number of occasions against Heimstetten and with pace and confidence was able to work himself into danger areas and carve out some excellent scoring chances for himself. Undoubtedly, he'll soon be banging in the goals and establish himself as a regular starter.
Players like Philip Lahm, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Holger Badstuber and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all now first team players who have graduated from the reserve team and have even gone on to represent Germany at international level. Former England international Owen Hargreaves is also a product of the Bayern Academy and Jennings is hoping to emulate his achievements by turning out for the England team one day.
As well as niggling injuries another challenge Jennings is having to overcome is the language barrier. "It's quite hard because I'm used to going into training and having a laugh with the lads but it's different here because when they're joking around and laughing around I don't really know what they're saying." He is enrolled in German language lessons but admits learning to speak 'Deutsch' doesn't come naturally.
Jennings appears to be enjoying life in Munich and is relishing a return to full fitness. Given a regular run in the side, and a few goals, he will surely go on to establish himself further. Eventually, he could even be looking to dislodge the likes of Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben from the Bayern Munich starting line-up.