The rise and rise of James Milner has been one of the great domestic stories in recent years and, with Manchester City loitering outside Villa Park with a rumoured £24 million, it seems that the Leeds-born midfielder could be set to renew acquaintances with Wayne Rooney in Manchester, eight years after they first took the Premier League by storm.
Milner burst onto the scene in 2002 when he became the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history with a goal against Sunderland in a 2-1 victory for Leeds. That goal broke a record set a couple of months previous by Wayne Rooney, then at Everton, and Milner and Rooney became great English hopes for the future.
Milner’s progress since seems laboured in comparison to Rooney’s but the Manchester United striker is a one in a million. A player who at 16 was physically, mentally and technically superior than anything seen in England for a long, long time.
After being initially used as a striker in his first appearances with Leeds, before settling as a winger at Newcastle, it has been Milner’s performances alongside Stiliyan Petrov at the heart of Villa’s midfield that have caught the eye of many, including that of England coach Fabio Capello.
However, joining the blue half of Manchester would be a mistake for both parties involved. It is hard to see where both his playing side and personality would fit in amongst the potential glitz and glamour that Sheikh Mansour hopes to bring to the Eastlands and, if anything, Man City require creativity. Also, at this stage in his development it would suit Milner to stay at Aston Villa. It’s a club that has stability, is ambitious and has a core of young English players all looking to achieve something together.
City are at a pivotal point in their project to break into the top four and start to challenge for major honours, but the lack of Champions League football means that, for at least one more year, the likes of Kaka are out of reach. But it is not crazy to assume that Roberto Mancini could put together a team capable of actually winning the league next season and despite Chelsea’s impressive goal tally, this has definitely been a year where the so-called ‘Top Four’ have regressed.
A move to the red half of Manchester would surely be a more sensible option. Sir Alex Ferguson is said to be a fan and Milner’s energy and versatility would inject some much needed life into a midfield that has faded in the last year and is in desperate need of a revamp.
What also does this say for Aston Villa? Martin O’Neil put to bed the rumours he was leaving this summer but its no secret that he is dismayed at owner Randy Learner’s decision to tighten the purse strings and, after Gareth Barry moved to Man City last year, the former Celtic boss will not relish the thought of losing a star midfield for a second summer running.
If Barcelona are only willing to depart with £30m for Cesc Fabregas, then £24m for James Milner seems a tad steep. But given his age and his ability adapt to each level as he encounters it, if Milner does end up in Manchester this summer you wouldn’t bet against him rising to the occasion once again.