Liverpool FC right-winger Jermaine Pennant is looking forward to fulfilling a childhood dream by playing in the UEFA Champions League final in Athens.
In July 2006, Jermaine Pennant was talking to reporters in the unlikely setting of Eschen in Liechtenstein following the winger's debut for Liverpool FC in a 3-2 defeat by 1. FC Kaisersluatern. It was just days after his transfer from Birmingham City FC and he was itching for his first taste of UEFA Champions League action - a third qualifying round tie against Maccabi Haifa FC. Pennant played, Liverpool won and now, ten months on, Pennant is ready for the game of his life.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League final against AC Milan, he said: "I don't think I could have dreamed of playing in a Champions League final, it is everyone's dream but not every player can do it. To do it in my first season is a great achievement for me and a great success for Liverpool Football Club."
Attempting to predict a Rafael Benítez lineup is as futile and frustrating as trying to decipher the street signs in Athens, but Pennant may have a key role to play. With Javier Mascherano and possibly Xabi Alonso likely to be detailed to counteract the playmaking threat of Kaká and Andrea Pirlo, Pennant could be employed wide right to give Liverpool width and pace in midfield. The 24-year-old said: "Any involvement will be brilliant and I'm looking forward to kick-off. It will be a great night for the fans, the club and myself. In the first part of the season I was finding my feet. In the second part I've settled well, got used to the tactics and the players and hopefully next season, I can kick into gear."
Pennant's career certainly seems to be kicking into gear after some setbacks, not least a prison spell for a drink-driving offence in 2005, but he is focusing on the future. "I have to take every game and step at a time," he said. "I have done so throughout my career. I've taken my setbacks as a man. I loved football as a kid and have tried to do the best I can. Liverpool have put a lot of faith in me and it is a dream come true to be here. It is a great season for me, maybe not for Liverpool, but I'm thrilled to bits to be in the Champions League final. Hopefully I can repay some of that faith and will promise 100 per cent if I get the nod."
Pennant wisely turned down the bait of implying that Milan's back line lacks pace when asked whether he could exploit it. He said: "Milan have great experience all round. The full-backs have pace and the centre-backs great ability. We know what we have to do, we have our game plan and have to stick to it." Almost eight years after he cost Arsenal FC €3.2m as a teenager, Pennant has reached the top table of European football. He said: "I've always believed in my ability and I've been given a chance to shine at a big club and prove everyone wrong."