Tue, Sep

"I have gotten closer to God," said Trinidad and Tobago and Bristol City midfielder Anthony Rougier. "I have been training my socks off everyday. But then I have always trained hard.

"But my relationship with God has improved and I think I have reached a new maturity in Christianity. And God blesses the step of the righteous man."

Rougier is a firm believer in the importance of intangible commodities in life and sport.

Preparation, according to Rougier, is an invaluable tool for success and mental attitude decides more football matches than skill.

But belief in God and a willingness to follow His word are priceless.

Rougier credits both qualities for his fine form that gave City a vital boost since he joined from struggling Brentford on the March transfer deadline day.

A versatile customer, who has played in every position for club and country barring between the uprights, Rougier brushed aside the compliments.

At 32, he has grown accustomed to existing outside the spotlight.

"It has never been easy for me," said Rougier. "I have never been a household name. I have never been a first pick even with the national team.

"It has always been different for me."

Rougier captained Trinidad and Tobago during their most successful spell of the '90s when they qualified for the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-finals for the first time with a squad that included Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy.

But, a week after their Gold Cup run, national coach Bertille St Clair was sacked and Rougier was not summoned for their opening World Cup qualifier against the Netherland Antilles.

By the time Rougier returned to the national reckoning,

Latapy had inherited the armband.

Such disappointments have occurred throughout his career.

After joining Scottish second tier outfit, Raith Rovers, in 1995 before a stint at Hibernian-he worked under current Dundee manager Jim Duffy and present Glasgow Rangers boss Alex McLeish-Rougier moved to Port Vale in the English First Division.

They were relegated that season and he joined Reading the following year and helped push them into the First Division.

Reading manager Alan Pardew was so impressed that he compared Rougier's effect to that of French star Eric Cantona at Manchester United.

But he was a bit part player in their Division One campaign and, after a brief loan spell with Brighton and Rovers, Rougier joined Brentford on a rolling contract last September.

He had insisted on a deal offering the option to leave with minimum fuss when a more attractive suitor came knocking.

It did not happen as soon as he might have liked.

There were mere hours remaining before the transfer deadline when Rougier finally left the relegation threatened Brentford for a team on the verge of promotion.

"Brentford was tough," he said, "but I had to trust God and know that He would take care of me."

Bristol City manager Danny Wilson insisted that it was no gamble-divine or otherwise.

"I did my homework and spoke with a lot of his past managers," he said, "about his play on the field and the type of guy he was. And all the reports were favourable.

"I think he has been exceptional for us and there is a lot of respect for him from the guys in the dressing room."

Rougier is expected to lend his maturity and experience to the challengers as well as his clever footwork and delivery from either flank or the odd crucial goal upfront.

Wilson insisted that Rougier would not play a defensive role for City.

The utility player has often been used in central defence by Trinidad and Tobago in a bid to balance a team brimming with offensive talent.

But Rougier hinted his preference for a more advanced position.

"I don't have a favoured position," he said. "A good footballer should be able to play anywhere and use both legs. I thank God (for that ability).

"But you can hurt yourself by playing so deep because you can lose the habit of getting into goal scoring positions and finishing. I have spoken to the coach about this but if the situation comes when I can help the team there, I will."

His spirit of self-sacrifice is even more pronounced off the field where his private outreach work has led him to visit and encourage inmates at the Reading prison.

He also keeps regular contact with past and present professionals such as Portsmouth defender Linvoy Primus, ex-Tottenham standout Garth Crooks as well as compatriots like Glasgow Rangers-bound Marvin "Dog" Andrews and ex-Bristol Rovers midfielder Ronnie Mauge.

"Every Christian is a minister," said Rougier. "I am not a pastor but I encourage people in Christ Jesus. I visit the prisons and I tell them that coming from a country of 1.3 million, which is about half the population of London and making it here; it cannot be me but God.

"I would like to do the same thing in Trinidad and to visit YTC (Youth Training Centre) but it is only as God commands."

He looks forward to resuming international duty and is disappointed to miss out on Trinidad and Tobago's friendly against Iraq at West Brom on Sunday-should City advance to the play-off final on Saturday.

He also pointed out the responsibility of the international team to encourage the domestic Pro League competition by presenting Trinidad and Tobago football as a valuable commodity.

"Our form encourages (the Pro League) to keep going," he said. "And the league is very important for our players and because it employs so many people. This is a very important time for Trinidad and Tobago football.

"It is very hard for me to miss (the Iraq friendly) because I know it is very important in terms of team building and bonding. I may not even be able to visit the team in camp (this week) but it is very important for me."

Rougier has his own ambitions too.

Forget Division One, he is already dreaming about the Premier League.

"You have to set yourself these heights," said Rougier. "I want to play Premiership football. As much as I have already gone against the odds in being a professional football here from Trinidad and Tobago, why not go all the way.

"My ambition is to play in the Premier League because the Bible tells us that we are the head and not the tail."

Bristol City fans would hope that it is a dream they can realise together.