There was little surprise when it popped up on my Twitter timeline that he had officially gone, subject to a medical he can’t possibly fail. James Milner had moved on after five years, to pastures new, to sign for Liverpool, the lure of Champions League football not sufficient to retain a player wanting to play more often and more centrally. It had been the longest goodbye, that new contract never signed, the rumours of his next club constant and varied.
He will be missed, have no doubt about that. Not only are City seeping home-grown players away at a rate of knots, which will probably require the management to purchase English players they don’t really want to sign (at inflated prices), but City have lost a player valued at comfortably over £10m for nothing who will now have to be replaced, under existing Financial Fair Play constraints. No wonder that City tried so hard to keep him, though it is only a matter of time before a croissant-munching Sun journalist bemoans on the Sunday Supplement why City let him go, as Neil Ashton nods in agreement, recalling how City don’t play Englishmen so he was forced to go. He doesn’t justify being one of City’s top earners, but our management realised it was cheaper to overpay him than see him go and have to replace him at much greater cost.
Nor should we hold any grudges. City paid £24m for a player for the term of his contract, and any player is perfectly entitled to let it run its course and move on. If City signed someone on a free transfer you wouldn’t be complaining, and calls that he strung City along are drivel, and without any evidence. From what I have heard he really was torn between what to do in the future, and would have signed a new contract with City if he had felt that to be best for his career. It’s hardly as if he has done this for the money, especially after what City are reported to have offered him.
The key point is that City are losing a great squad player. James Milner was rarely injured. He was the consummate professional, a manager’s dream. Never in trouble, never causing trouble, never moaning, never letting a gobby agent act as a spokesman. James Milner never wore gloves during a match – he’d wear shorts for training in a blizzard. There is not one skill that James Milner is truly world class at, but there is not a single skill he is poor at- he’d probably even put in a good shift in net.
A tireless worker, he can pass, he can cross, tackle, and he proved himself adept in front of goal. Most crucial of all perhaps, his work-rate meant that when he was in the team, out wide, the full-back behind him was always protected. He made life easier for his team-mates, and allowed the more skilful of them the freedom to express themselves. He isn’t the greatest, but pretty much every squad in England would be stronger for his inclusion, as he could cover so many positions, and protect so many teammates.
For a while, I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind leaving. I wasn’t being blinkered or deluded, football has its own food chain, and unless you support the biggest club in the world (no, not them), there are clubs below and above you. And right now, a player with over 30 appearances a season for Manchester City should not be considering a move to Liverpool, who won’t be participating in the Champions League next season, nor in my opinion challenging for the title. But slowly, I saw his point of view, as his reasoning became common knowledge.
We know he wants to play centrally, like the Aston Villa player we signed all those years ago. City will never give him a permanent berth there, there’s too much competition, and whilst I am not convinced that it is actually his best position, he clearly thinks it is, wants to play there, and will naturally be swayed by a big club’s manager assuring him that he will play there, though with Brendan Rodger’s track record, I’d get something down in writing.
Secondly, he is the archetypal player who is desperate to play every week, and that trumps a big pay packet and perhaps even trophies. This is his last big hoorah, and he wants to play regularly, on his terms. Fair enough, especially if it helps add to his 53 England caps. Of course playing regularly is exactly what he has been doing in the past 10 months, he’s starred in as many league games as David Silva (though admittedly some were from the bench), but you suspect that with a busy transfer window ahead for City, he saw what lay ahead. Summer is coming, and with it less pitch-time for James Milner, and he never nailed down a proper 1st team place.
I just can’t get away from the feeling though that he has made a bad decision. Kudos to him for leaving and seeking a new challenge, and for taking a risk, but I just don’t see it as being a good move for him, I just don’t. As mentioned, he will get playing time in his preferred position, but unless you’re Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, he surely can’t have been promised to be picked every week, and if he has that sets a very dangerous precedent for Brendan Rodgers and his team, especially if he loses form and is still playing every week.
Anyway, this is surely a great signing for Liverpool, yes? Well I presumed so, but as I speak, Tony Evans is on Twitter, deriding the ambition of his club Liverpool for the signing. For free, it seems a steal, though it is never truly free with the signing on fee and the weekly wages, and Evans rightly pointed out that it does not say much for a team’s ambition if James Milner is one of your top earners. However, it is still a great signing if it is backed with other signings. I really don’t see how snapping up an England international on a free transfer can ever be considered a bad move. The worry will be that a central midfield pairing of Henderson and Milner has many things going for it, but it will hardly frighten their competitors.
Still, the revisionism can now begin. Free of City’s shackles (as the ITV website bizarrely described his time at the club), now people may truly appreciate his worth, like they suddenly did when Gareth Barry left. Milner was always the scapegoat for England’s failures, and I hope one day that changes, for his sake. I hope he is fairly successful at his new club and has no regrets. City don’t need a James Milner to win trophies, but there will be matches when we would have benefitted from his presence, and will miss him now he is gone.
And so leaves another player integral to the most successful period in our history – we are left with the memories, from Manchester to Munich -all the best James Milner.