The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger, 33, made the comment as he departs Tampines Rovers after just nine months in the nine-team Singapore league.
"No matter who you get, you could bring Messi here, yes, you'd attract fans but without money, and the government and the league helping out like they do with other sports, or what they do in other countries, it's not going to grow," he told the Straits Times newspaper.
"If they don't do anything, football is always going to be in a comfort zone, not progressing."
Pennant was arguably the biggest signing in S-League history, but he was cut loose after Tampines Rovers finished second, one point behind Albirex Niigata.
The S-League struggles to attract spectators and sponsorship in an era when many Singaporean fans prefer to watch European football on television.
The Straits Times said Pennant was believed to be earning Sg$20,000 ($14,000) a month under his contract.
Club chairman Krishna Ramachandra told AFP on Thursday that "While the club could afford his wages, it would also send the wrong message to all the other players, who may have to take a pay cut, that one player is getting a super-scale salary."