Pennant Reds' £6m man
The upswing in fortunes that has swept Jermaine Pennant from a prison cell to his lofty perch as one of the hottest properties in Midlands football will reach its apex today when the winger signs for Liverpool.
Despite issuing a statement to the contrary, Birmingham City yesterday agreed a transfer fee with the Premiership giants - the most successful club in the history of the domestic game - that will see the mercurial winger agree a dream move to Anfield to play for the team he supported as a boy.
As a result, Pennant will travel up to Merseyside this morning to discuss terms and undergo a medical with a view to meeting his new teammates and flying out to Austria for their preseason camp by the end of the week.
Birmingham are believed to have received their biggest transfer fee - somewhere in the region of £6 million - and although they have not got the £8 million they were asking for, the sale represents excellent business for a player they have fully rehabilitated.
When Steve Bruce first made an enquiry to Arsenal about taking Pennant on loan in January last year, it was considered a wise move because, although the Nottingham-born wideman had not featured much in the Highbury first team, few could question his talent.
But when, towards the end of the transfer window in January 2005, Pennant was jailed for driving while disqualified, there were many who thought the Blues manager should end his interest in a player with a history of poor behaviour.
Instead Bruce persevered, brought the 23-year-old to St Andrew's and handed him an opportunity to save his career.
In the 12 matches he played, Pennant responded well and even though he was released by Arsene Wenger at the end of the 2004-05 campaign, Birmingham supporters had seen enough to know Bruce was doing the right thing when he offered him a contract.
Throughout last season, despite Birmingham's generally poor performances, Pennant remained one of the few bright spots - albeit incons istently as opponents double-teamed a man recognised as City's biggest threat.
Following relegation, the club's board made noises about not selling off their crown jewels, but when Liverpool came in with a £3.5m bid a few weeks ago, it became clear Pennant would not be with Birmingham for too much longer.
Bruce rejected that initial offer and set his price at £8m, cognisant of the fact that Arsenal were due a quarter of whatever he received. If that is £6m, Blues will be left with about £4.5m to finance their campaign to get back in the Premiership. They hope to sign two midfielders this week.
For his part, Pennant will hope his move will have a similarly positive effect to the one experienced by Peter Crouch. The England striker, after a torrid time in two years with Aston Villa, was derided as a waste of money when Rafael Benitez paid Southampton £7m for him 12 months ago. He scored six goals in 11 games for his country and played impressively in this summer's World Cup.
Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt is also set to sign for Liverpool, if the Reds can beat Feyenoord down from their £12m asking price and that signals a real push for the Premiership title by the FA Cup winners, who won that trophy after a record 7-0 quarter-final caning of a Blues side containing Pennant at St Andrew's in March.
Blues will be sorry to see Pennant go. In fact, managing director Karren Brady had stated that the player would not be sold at all but, in financial terms, they have doubled their money on the England Under-21 international, who they signed from Arsenal for £3m in April 2005.
Many commentators believe Pennant has the ability to play on the international stage and perhaps at Liverpool, where he will be one of many weapons and not marked so heavily. The 15-year-old whose gifts persuaded Arsenal to part with £2m may finally fulfil his potential.