New Birmingham starlet Quincy Owusu-Abeyie turned down the chance to return to the Premier League in favour of a move to St Andrew's.
The 22-year-old, who spent two years at Arsenal before moving to Spartak Moscow in 2006, was unveiled as the final part of Alex McLeish’s impressive offensive master-plan having agreed a one-year loan deal with a view to a permanent move.
The Ghana international will not make his debut in Saturday's season opener against Sheffield United, the protracted nature of his transfer has left him unable to prepare as his manager would have liked, but has been brought in to make a big impact with his searing pace and attacking instinct. He is expected to challenge Gary McSheffrey for a role on the left wing.
However, Birmingham, who will pay £1.585million, could have missed out altogether when a top-flight club made a last-ditch attempt to prise the Dutch-born winger from their grasp, only for Owusu-Abeyie and his agent to demonstrate loyalty to the club that has spent most of the summer trying to persuade him.
“Birmingham have been working for seven weeks to get this together,” said the player’s agent, Leon Callender. “They have been on that merry-go-round for a long time and every time Spartak moved the goalposts, they stuck to it.”
Owusu-Abeyie never wavered in his desire to move to St Andrew’s and return to a country where he feels he has much to prove following a spell in which he failed to fulfil his undoubted potential.
“I had a look around the club, spoke to the manager and was really happy because they were willing to give me a chance,” Owusu-Abeyie said. “I could have gone to the Premier League but I want to come here and challenge for the Championship. Birmingham has some big players.”
If he is to become one of them, and McLeish believes he has all the physical and technical tools to do that, he will have to justify his manager’s faith more than he did with the North London giants.
After arriving at Highbury from the Ajax youth set-up as a 16-year-old like so many others, such as current team-mate Sebastian Larsson and former Blues midfielder Jermaine Pennant, he found it hard to force his way into the first team and had to be content with ten appearances in the Carling Cup and a handful more in the FA Cup and Champions League.
Only once did he start a Premier League game and by the time he was 18, he felt he needed to leave to further his career. As much for issues off the pitch, as on it.
“It’s up to you if you want to take that journey and wait and wait until you get a good chance and stay in there but I thought it was good for me to leave,” he said. “It was hard not playing. You want to play first-team football but if it is not working, you have to look at the bigger picture and take the next step.
“Have I failed to fulfil my promise? That’s how I feel. I was young and I didn’t really show enough to prove what I was capable of. Work-wise, attitude-wise. It’s not easy to live and learn at that young age.
“You can think that you are a great player. You can work hard in training, play good games but when you come off the pitch, you can get influenced. You can let it get to your head. You have to stay strong and be focused. That’s where I went wrong, I was not focused enough. I should have taken the opportunities I had.”
But having spent a year in Russia and last season with Celta Vigo in Spain, Owusu-Abeyie feels he has developed sufficiently as a person to adapt.
“I am happy that I made the step to go away and experience the Russian league and the Spanish league and come back with so many valuable lessons. You start to realise what you have to do to become a professional player,” he said. “ I have matured now. I am 22 and there’s a big difference to being in England when you’re 17. I’ve got a lot to prove.”
If he can do that, and secure the permanent transfer both he and McLeish seem to want, Birmingham will have to part with a further £3.65m.
“It is time for me to settle in one place,” he said. “I think the best place is in England. I came here when I was 16, so it is easy for me to be back here.”
Larsson’s will not be the only familiar face. Owusu-Abeyie played against Garry O’Connor during the Scotsman’s stint with Lokomotiv Moscow and knows Kemy Agustien from his time in Holland.
“We hope he makes a difference,” McLeish said. “One of his big assets is he has pace. He has come with good credentials.
“Friends in Spain who saw him at Celta Vigo were very impressed. We think we have signed a very exciting talent”