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Career has turned the corner; Having gone from marking Christian Vieri in training to slumming it in League One, Michael Turner is determined not to waste his second crack at life at the top, writes Stuart Rayner.

WHEN the teenage Michael Turner was sharing a training pitch with Christian Vieri, Clarence Seedorf and Robbie Keane, the top of English football must have seemed a short step away.

Instead the central defender has had to clamber up the football pyramid as his Sunderland manager Steve Bruce did two decades earlier.

Having managed it, Turner has not given up hope of doing what Bruce failed to and wear the Three Lions - even if his World Cup dream could cause domestic nightmares.

Turner had the good fortune to be at Charlton Athletic when the then-Premier League side had an academy exchange programme with Inter Milan.

Five years on, things had not exactly turned out as planned.

Turner's only first-team appearances came in loans at Leyton Orient and Brentford. He cut his losses and moved permanently to Griffin Park.

Fast forward another five years and Turner runs out at Birmingham City today a multi-million pound footballer on the fringe of international recognition.

"When you are playing in League One you feel a very, very long way from the Premier League," he says. "It did when I was at Brentford.

Gradually I got to the Championship and was fortunate enough to play in a (Hull) side which was promoted. I got a stab at the Premier League and would like to think I have taken it.

"Every player wants to play at the top. I started at Charlton, who were in the Premier League, but I had to go down to League One to play first-team football. Leaving Charlton made me hungrier to get back to that level.

"Part of you worries you will not be good enough. I believe all players are destined for a level and when you are playing in League One you think, 'Is this the level I am going to be at for the rest of my career?' "Getting the move up to the Premier League was a great challenge and one I have really relished.

"Now I am here, I don't want to give it up. It is all about making the most of a great place to play football. There is a lot of recognition, media interest, hype, and you have to be prepared.

"My aim now is to establish myself in the side and perform consistently, like I did at Hull, and for the team to stay in the top half and see how far we can go.

"The lads are hungry for success. I want to be part of something here. We are heading in the right direction."

Bruce perhaps saw something of himself in the no-frills defender who turns 26 next month.

While the Londoner was educated in Italy's fashion capital, the Geordie was an apprentice plumber at Swan Hunter. Gillingham offered a reprieve and, via Norwich City, a route to Manchester United at the age of 26.

"The facilities were not great," Turner says of Brentford. "Just after I got there the players had to paint the training ground. That is a massive contrast to where I am now.

"I like to think I have worked to hard to get (to) the excellent conditions here and will never take them for granted.

"I came pre-season to Brentford and the lads were getting the painting done. I just missed out on doing it, which was good timing!

"It makes you appreciate when you get to this level how good it is. You do everything you can to make it work.

"It has been quite a long journey in a short space of time. I am delighted to have reached the Premier League and don't want to leave."

If slumming it with Brentford taught Turner plenty, so had mixing with Milanese millionaires.

"Going to Italy as a kid was a really exciting time for me," he says. "I had just started my apprenticeship with Charlton and moved there for six months.

" It was exciting to have that on your CV and I learned a lot.

"We had a few practice games with the first team (which included the likes of prolific Italy striker Vieri) and trained with them a couple of times.

"It made you think this is where you want to be, although it felt mad at the time! It was the first time I had really lived away from home.

" There was a hostel where all the boys stayed who didn't come from Milan. "You get a few naughty lads and a few playing tricks, but it was quite good fun really. It is a country that really values defending, holding shirts, marking real tight at corners. I suppose I learned a few tricks."

To complete the riches-to-rags-to-riches story, Turner must go from England standby to full cap. "Like any English player, I would like to play for my country," he says.

"You have to get on with club football and get recognised. If something came along then happy days.

"I have not booked my summer holidays yet, but I am getting married in May. Getting to the World Cup finals would be a dream come true.

"We have quite a few English players in the Sunderland squad that would love the opportunity to play for their country, but it is all about being consistent for your club."

MATCHBOX BIRMINGHAM CITY VSUNDERLAND Team News: Franck Queudrue and Stuart Parnaby are both back from injury. Full-back Parnaby and Queudrue, reinvented as a centre-half this season, both had hamstring problems. Midfielder Teemu Tainio is ineligible is unable to play against the club Birmingham loaned him from. Injury update: Keith Fahey (ankle, doubt), Giovanny Espinoza (ankle, one week), David Murphy (knee, one week), Martin Taylor (ankle, one week) 25 Joe HART 2 Stephen CARR 6 Liam RIDGEWELL 20 Franck QUEUDRUE 15 Scott DANN 7 Sebastian LARSSON 12 Barry FERGUSON 26 Lee CARSLEY 4 Lee BOWYER 16 James McFADDEN 10 Cameron JEROME Substitute s: 1 Maik TAYLO R 8 Garry O''CONNOR 9 Kevin PHILLIPS 14 Roger JOHNSON 19 Gary McSHEFFREY 23 Marcus BENT 24 Jay O''SHEA Team News: Kenwyne Jones should be fit to lead the attack after being stretchered off against Liverpool last weekwith an ankle injury. Kieran Richardson is back from suspension and pushes for a place at left-back. Jordan Henderson replaces Lee Cattermole in central midfield. Injury update: Boudewijn Zenden (hip, doubt), Andy Reid (calf, doubt). Kenwyne Jones (ankle, doubt), John Mensah (calf, doubt), Lee Cattermole (knee, 12 weeks).

Likely line-up (4-4-2) 1 Craig GORDON 2 Phil BARDSLEY 5 Anton FERDINAND 4 Michael TURNER 10 Kieran RICHARDSON 8 Steed MALBRANQUE 16 Jordan HENDERSON 19 Lorik CANA 20 Andy REID 17 Kenwyne JONES 11 Darren BENT Substitutes: 3 George McCARTNEY 7 Boudewijn ZENDEN 9 Fraizer CAMPBELL 14 Daryl MURPHY 22 Paulo DA SILVA 23 David HEALY 32 M[sz]rton FLUP Last season: N/A. Last five League games: Birmingham L L L W L; Sunderland W D W L W Match odds: H 9-5; A 6-4; D 23-10. Top scorers (league only): Birmingham: Lee Bowyer 2 Sunderland: Darren Bent: 8 Referee: Martin Atkinson (Leeds) Head to Head (the League record): Birmingham wins:39 Draws: 22 Sunderland wins: 53 Kick-off: 3pm.

TV: Highlights on Match of the Day

CAPTION(S):

THE GOOD OLD DAYS Michael Turner of Sunderland and left, Christian Vieri at Inter Milan.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 24, 2009
Words:1212
Previous Article:SKILLTRAININGLTD NORTHERN LEAGUE.
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