As players fully establish themselves, they’re typically filed under a certain criteria. At extreme ends of this spectrum you’ve got the superstars—Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the likes—and you’ve got the parody figures, like Nicklas Bendtner, Kolo Toure, and Marouane Fellaini. But there are a few categories in-between too.
James Milner is a player that has been branded as something of a workhorse, a player in the same mould of Dirk Kuyt and Ji-Sung Park. Someone who will play on the flank for Manchester City, make energetic forays up and down the line throughout the course of the 90 minutes, but conjure little of note in the final third. When it comes to the England international, those qualities are longstanding, but perhaps a little unfair.
When City sanctioned a deal believed to be worth around £26 million for the Aston Villa man in 2010, it’s worth remembering exactly what attributes attracted Roberto Mancini to the former Leeds and Newcastle United man. Milner was the lynchpin of an effervescent Villa team that had flirted with Champions League qualification, and he was playing in the centre of midfield.
It’s a role that Milner began playing at Villa Park under the tutelage of Martin O’Neill, and although he was a player that the Irishman would occasionally use in a wide berth, the Villains never looked quite as dynamic when Milner was absent from the middle of the park.
Fast forward to this season, and dynamism—Sergio Aguero aside—is something that’s been short supply in this current City team. Manuel Pellegrini’s men have been especially laboured in the recent outings, having been out-run, out-tackled and out-pressed by perceived lesser opposition in previous games. And while names like Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and Fernando are a little more seductive, it begs the question, why not give Milner a chance to establish himself at the heart of this team?
He’s been a player that’s been effective on the wing and already this season he’s put in some bustling displays on the flanks. But watching City in recent weeks, Milner’s work-rate, defensive awareness, dribbling ability and eye for a pass could surely be better utilised by Pellegrini.
After all, Toure is having a difficult season, which is wholly understandable when you consider the tragedy which he had to endure this summer. Fernandinho is struggling to have the same impression as he did in his debut season, something that’s been hampered by a few niggling injuries in the early part of the campaign. And Fernando, after a promising start to life in City blue, seems to have been caught a little off guard by the ferocious pace of the Premier League.
Milner is a man that couldn’t be better acquainted with the rigours of English football’s top flight. He’s featured regularly for City this season, but at 29 years old, he’s a player that, having won the most prestigious honours in the English game with the Etihad outfit, should be looking to play football on a much more regular basis. And probably in his best position too.
City should give him a chance to prove his worth in that role, and with both Toure and Fernandinho both suspended for their critical clash with Bayern Munich in the Champions League, he could well get his chance then. And in truth, his industry would be much better utilised against the Germans’ stellar midfield than the occasional erraticism of the Brazilian or the cumbersome defensive efforts of the Ivorian
Milner is by no means a long-term solution in that area of the pitch for City, but given their recent run of form, it’s difficult to argue against him getting an opportunity to, quite literally, play a central role for the Champions. If he doesn’t, then the England man has no chance of showing his manager what he can potentially do in his preferred role and with his contract due to expire in the summer, potentially looking for a move away
Milner hasn’t operated in this particular area of the field for around four years now, and with that in mind, perhaps he’s lost some of the vigour that made him so coveted in his time at Aston Villa. But he’s a multi-faceted, hungry player who given a run of games, could add some much needed cohesion to this City team.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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