Not so very long ago, many an eyebrow was raised (mine included) when Aston Villa shelled out the lion’s share of £12 million to sign James Milner from Newcastle United.
Milner, then just 22-years-old, was a young player with a burgeoning talent and a growing reputation, but it still seemed that the inflated transfer fee was possibly more a result of his recent purple patch than a true reflection of his talents.
Since then, the former Leeds United academy graduate has blossomed, forcing his way into the England set-up (and staying there) whilst receiving countless plaudits on an almost weekly basis for his tenacious play and tireless attitude.
His fantastic form in the centre of the Aston Villa midfield this season has led to a wave of spurious rumour-mongering linking Milner with a move to most of the Premier League ‘big boys’ – most notably both Manchester’s United and City.
Note: This week’s Soccerlens Podcast discusses James Milner’s likely destination in the summer, as well as looking at Joe Cole and Darren Bent. It also features an interesting interview with Sven Goran Eriksson. Listen here.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is alleged to have singled out Milner as a direct replacement for veteran midfield maestro Paul Scholes, and is rumoured to be plotting a sizeable pre-World Cup bid to tempt Villa into parting with their most prized of assets. It’s a similar story over at United’s cash-rich city rivals – City’s bajillionaire owner’s have apparently seen a shiny thing and they want it.
With Aston Villa having seemingly hit a Champions League ‘glass ceiling’, Milner may – and that’s a big ‘may’ – be considering a switch to a (no offence Villa fans) bigger team. But would that be the right decision for him at this crucial milestone in his career?
For what it’s worth, my answer would be a resounding ‘no’. Milner is currently enjoying a somewhat talismanic role at Villa Park, a position he would by no means be guaranteed to re-assume in a larger – and therefore more competitive – squad at a relatively bigger club.
He needs to be playing regularly in a central position, in a system that suits him, to continue his impressive development and a move away from Villa may only serve to disrupt his growth. Judging from the few interviews I’ve seen, Milner seems to be a fairly intelligent and ego-less individual and I’m sure the rumours of a glamour move to either of the Manchesters will not serve to distract him overly.
Martin O’ Neill has publicly stated that Milner is not for sale at any price, but I seriously doubt that a huge bid (I’m talking £25 million plus) from either of his potential suitors wouldn’t seriously tempt Villa into cashing in, and there’s a good chance they may be receiving one over the coming months as Milner is young, home-grown, versatile and has a tremendous attitude and appetite for the game – qualities that will tick a fair few boxes on the wishlists of the Premier League’s elite.