Matt Clarke admits he owes ‘everything’ to Pompey.
But the 22-year-old revealed the necessity to test himself above League One level was the driving force behind his Fratton Park departure.
Clarke’s long-anticipated switch to Brighton was confirmed on Friday, in a deal which could reach in excess of £5m.
Following 175 appearances and nine goals for the Blues, from next season the classy centre-half will be vying for a Premier League place.
During four campaigns with Pompey, Clarke was an integral presence in claiming the League Two title, the Checkatrade Trophy and reaching two play-off semi-finals.
Now the twice-crowned The News/Sports Mail's Player of the Season is relishing a new challenge.
Clarke told The News: ‘As a boy, you dream of playing in the Premier League, and maybe it is time to give myself a new challenge.
‘When you have a year left on your contract, that is when most transfers happen, so that also seemed to fit.
‘And unfortunately with Pompey not getting promoted and me needing to take a step up, that was also a factor.
‘It’s hard to say whether I would have stayed if we had earned promotion, certainly it may have been a different situation with the opportunity to play Championship football, but it just wasn’t to be.
‘In your career, you would like to be on an upward curve. I’d had two years in League Two and two good years in League One, so in my head was ready to test myself with a new challenge, I wanted to take a step up.
‘You cannot say you are better than a level, there are always challenges, but I’d like to think I’ve done my time in League One.
‘Sometimes players, maybe more in attacking positions, have a good half a year and then try to take the step up too early.
‘Whereas I’d like to think I have enough games under my belt and am educated enough in football to realise when the time is right.
‘As a player, you must always aspire to be better, it’s not a case of you are doing all right so “I'll try to keep this up”. You want to think “I am doing all right, but there are things to work on”.’
Clarke initially arrived at Pompey as an 18-year-old defender from Ipswich attempting to win a six-month loan deal.
And he is forever grateful to the club which has provided a crucial career launchpad.
He added: ‘I’ve loved it, Pompey gave me a chance – this club has given me everything.
‘If I hadn't come here and played, I don’t know where I would be.
‘I will always be very grateful for the opportunity, I can only thank Pompey for that because there is nothing like playing football week in, week out.’