Since the takeover in 2008, City have made some pretty poor signings. Some might say James Milner is one of them. Those people would be wrong. In the half-decade he’s spent at The Etihad, he’s developed into one of the finest English midfielders of the last few years, playing in a variety of roles, yet despite this is still overlooked by some, mainly non-City, football fans in discussions about excellent players.
That’s not to say he’s still on the lists of underrated players in the Premier League. He’s managed to work his way off of them now, with many now widely acknowledging just how good the 29-year-old is. And rightly so. He might not have been as vital in this past five years and four trophies than for example Sergio Aguero or Yaya Toure – and few could expect him to be – but he’s still played an important role as City established themselves as one of the top clubs in England.
When he signed from Aston Villa in the summer of 2010, for a hefty £26 million fee, you could have been forgiven for thinking he might end up like some of the others City signed during that era of early-takeover purchasing, in which many players who were bought for unreasonable amounts failed as City players. Even a couple of years later, there was still a disproportionate amount of people – again, mainly people who didn’t watch City and probably saw Milner twice a year – who didn’t rate Milner, which led to a country-wide campaign of putting him on “Top 10 Underrated Players” lists.
Of course, there’s only so long a person can appear on those lists before it becomes an accepted fact that that player is good. This is the case with Milner. The thing about his contribution is, is that it isn’t always visible with assists and goals, but what he does offer is an immense level of determination and grit, to a level some players could only dream of. That’s served us well over the last five seasons, and it’ll be the thing I miss most when he signs that Anfield contract at the start of July.
As much of an admirer as I am of Milner, I’m probably that to a lesser extent than some other City fans. While some were clamouring for us to offer him a new contract, which would be for the next four years and on over £150,000 per week, I was a bit more hesitant. The man won’t be as good as he is forever, and if we’re paying that much for a player who’s already 29 then it’s a risky, risky move. And surely we’re past taking unnecessary risks now?
I also don’t blame him for moving to Liverpool, like some now seem to be doing. For starters, I’d rather he joined them than United, who were also linked with a move for him. Secondly, he’s signing for a fantastically historical club, but one where he’ll be respected and is likely to play in the central midfield role he craves.
If wanting to play central midfield is the reason he left Eastlands, then it’s difficult to blame him. We can’t promise him that. Not with Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Fernando and possibly summer signings to compete with. Aged 29, his main priority now is playing games and playing to the best of his ability. I’m not having this whole “he played 44 games last year” argument, he deserves to play where he feels is best for him. It’s not about the money, it’s not about playing time, it’s about getting a role that suits him. If City can’t offer him that and guarantee him that, then he’s got every right to seek it elsewhere.
A lot of times this season when writing news articles on City players being linked with moves away, I’ve written “he won’t be missed” or “he’ll be missed” on quite a few of them. I feel more than ever that “he’ll be missed” is the correct statement for Milner. He’s going to be remembered fantastically for years to come, for his understated contributions and for his rock-solid attitude. Some might suggest he doesn’t deserve that. I believe he does. And I’m positive I’m not the only person who thinks that.