Jermaine Pennant turned down the prospect of Uefa Champions League football to sign for Birmingham City.
The winger, who secured a move to St Andrew?s on a three-year contract, rejected moves to Liverpool and Everton because he believed that he had more chance of fulfilling his potential with Birmingham.
Pennant has been on loan with Birmingham since January and, having spent the whole of March in prison for driving offences, has emerged as one of the Premiership?s brightest young players.
Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, signed him for #3 million from Arsenal and regards it as a bargain acquisition. ?I am confident that Jermaine will play for England,? Bruce said. ?He is a talented kid.?
Pennant, aged 22, will remain at St Andrew?s at least until 2008 but the club has an option that could extend the deal until 2009. Everybody, it seems, is happy with the arrangement but nobody is more content than Pennant.
?Signing for Birmingham City made it a memorable day for me and the chance to push on in my career,? Pennant said. ?I think I can fulfil my potential here.
?The manager [Bruce] was a big reason why I signed. When you get a manager who backs you 100 per cent, it helps. Things did not go so well for me but that is all in the past now. It was easy to sign here.
?When a manager sits next to you and says that you can go on and play for England, it makes you feel good. It makes you feel positive. If he can see that potential then there is something for me to fight for.
?I was disappointed with what happened at Arsenal. They are a big club and things did not work out. I had a great time there. I was training with the best and working under Ars>ne Wenger. But I have to look for the future.
?I am still young. I have probably got another ten or 11 years. This is a stepping stone. I need to fulfil my potential.?
Spending a month in jail was hardly part of Pennant?s plans but he has vowed to use the experience to his benefit. He seems more settled, more relaxed, and relieved that the future is likely to be brighter than the past. As he sat inside his prison cell in March, he wondered where it all went wrong.
?Everything I have been through will make me a better player and a better person,? Pennant said. ?I am glad it happened because it made me realise what I would miss.
?I want to give back to the community and underprivileged kids. What happened was a nightmare. I have been there, done it, but I want to take the positives out of it. The first night in prison I realised it was not for me. It was the kick up the backside that I needed. Some people need that.
?I have been through a lot from a young age. At the time I joined Notts County at 15, I just wanted to play football. There is no pressure, although you do see what the newspapers are writing about you.
?The problem for me was that I was in the spotlight at 15, 16 but still not playing regularly by the time I reached 20.
?It is vital to have somebody backing you, especially if you are young and coming into a different environment. There are people who do not have what I have ? a good agent, a good manager ? and they might fail because of that. But you only get that at certain places.?
For now, Pennant aims to repeat what Matthew Upson has achieved. Upson, the Birmingham defender, was going nowhere with Arsenal. Not long after joining Birmingham, he began his international career with England.
?I do look at Matthew Upson and see that he left Arsenal and then, having joined Birmingham, became an England player,? Pennant said. ?Just because you leave a big club, it does not mean that you are going backwards.
?I feel that I am taking a step forward. I have spoken to Matty about it. He feels the same way about it. He is a great player who has done well. I have never been this happy in my career. Birmingham have done a lot for me and I am grateful for that. That is why I am playing the best football of my career.?
Pennant?s performance away to Everton last Saturday emphasised his talent but the 1-1 draw said everything about Birmingham ? s attributes and failings. They are in the bottom half but their squad is more talented than that.
?It surprises me that Birmingham are so low down in the Premiership,? Pennant said. ?We have got great players and we should not be where we are. But next season you would like to think that we will do better. If I play week in, week out, and stay injury free, who knows what will happen?
?I can play on the left wing or the right wing. I would play anywhere for England.?