What Happened To Dale Jennings? Eight Years On From His Dream Bayern Munich Move
Former Bayern Munich prospect Dale Jennings will spend his weekends this season playing for Runcorn Town, a semi-professional side in the ninth tier of English football.
Jennings went from living a teenage dream and being greeted by Philipp Lahm at Bayern's training base after a move from Tranmere when he was 18 years old, to testing car parts for Land Rover and Jaguar.
His whole world came crashing down when his oldest daughter Mila, five, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017.
But after some of of the toughest years of his life, 26-year-old Jennings has his hunger and desire back to relaunch his football career.
"It's the worst thing a parent could hear, that your daughter has cancer, so for me football wasn't important." he told SPORTbible.
"I wouldn't have cared if I kicked a football again. As long as my daughter was okay. The main thing was for me to be there for her. Thankfully she is getting better now."
Jennings had to find a full-time job after being out of the game for so long. He spent his first week in employment at an Amazon warehouse, an experience he described as a "reality check."
"It's nothing like full-time football but hopefully I can get back there in the future." Jennings says, shortly before heading off for a Friday night shift.
It was at Tranmere's iconic Raby Vale Training Ground where one of the most remarkable transfers in football history sparked into life.
Jennings remembers the training session in the summer of 2011 that changed his career forever.
He recalled: "Tranmere manager Les Parry called me in during a session and said 'I just had someone from Bayern Munich on the phone!'
"I just started laughing because he's a bit of a joker, but he was being deadly serious."
The 18-year-old midfielder, who burst onto the scene that season after coming through the youth ranks, was attracting interest from a host of Premier League clubs, including Everton, West Ham and Watford.
But on July 13 2011, he secured a dream move to Germany's biggest club Bayern Munich in a £1.7million deal.
"I didn't know what I was getting myself in for until I was on the plane, on my own and on the way to Munich." he said.
In the space of a few months, this raw but exciting talent went from playing in front of 5,000 people in the lower leagues of English football to being labelled a potential replacement for Franck Ribery.
It was something he found difficult to deal with.
"Making that move to the Bundesliga was bigger than I thought it was going to be. I wasn't expecting all the media attention." Jennings admitted.
"When when you hear that you're one of the top teenagers in the world, the pressure is on."
Bayern captain Lahm soon made the youngster feel welcome by introducing him to life in Bavaria's capital.
But the 18-year-old would soon encounter further problems in his new home.
In addition to mounting injury problems, Jennings struggled to settle in Munich.
"I had always lived with my Mum so being thrown in at the deep end, in another country, was mentally tough," he said.
"Instead of getting on with my football, I had to take in the other aspects of life. Not being able to speak the language was difficult as well. You couldn't really have any banter with the lads."
He went on to make 36 appearances for Munich's B team, playing alongside the likes of Emre Can and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but ultimately injuries and homesickness played a part in his eventual departure.
Two years into his three-year deal, he left the Bundesliga side in 2013 after failing to make a first-team appearance for the club.
Jennings joined Championship side Barnsley for £250,000 and his fairy-tale was over, but he doesn't regret a single minute of it.
"I think if I was to do it all over again, I'd learn the language more. I'd take the culture in." he said.
"The first couple of months were just surreal and it didn't sink in. I was struggling with the language and half way through my first season I was homesick and thought about coming home.
"Maybe if I stayed a little longer in England and made that jump when I was older, things might have turned out a little different but I don't regret moving there because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"Stuff like this doesn't happen. It's unheard of at that age."
Jennings continued to struggle in the coming years and, despite picking up the Young Player of the Year award at Barnsley, injuries once again played their part.
"When you're picking up injuries all the time it makes you think about packing football in all together." he said.
"You feel like you're over an injury and then something else pops up."
Eight years on from his fascinating journey in Munich, the 26-year-old is finally fit and ready to have a "big year" with Runcorn Town.
That being said, his time with Germany's most successful club is still very much part of his everyday life, even if he does shrug it off.
"My teammates say 'Oh here he is, how's Ribery?' and stuff." he laughs.
"When you meet new players they ask 'How was Bayern?' and 'How was Germany?' - I just say it was alright.
"I play it down a little bit because I just want to focus on what I'm doing now and try not to bring the past up. I just want to get myself going again.
"The fans give me stick as well. You hear people talking when you're playing, shouting things at you because of the level I've played at and where I've been.
"I thrive on it to be honest. I love getting a bit of stick from the fans."
78' ' Dale Jennings comes on for Runcorn. Getting lots of shit.
- 74 LIVE (@1874MATCHDAY) April 27, 2019
Jennings is keen to have a productive season and hopes to stay injury free.
"I believe in my ability and what I can bring to the table." he says.
"I do feel like I can play at a higher level than I am now but I just want to do my best for Runcorn and see what happens then.
"I am truly thankful for the opportunity they have given me."