‘We want you to stay, we want you to stay, Jimmy Milner, we want you to stay…’ Well, that chant from the Etihad masses went down a storm, didn’t it?
The truth was James Milner was never going to extend his five year contract at Manchester City – a deal, albeit a verbal agreement with Brenda’s bunch – had been in place for months, well before his move to Anfield became official.
A popular player with the majority of City fans, Milner never really cut it with the football purists, the City faithful who are tactically astute, who know what they’re looking for in terms of technical ability and assessing the proverbial ‘first touch’.
James didn’t lack for effort or a willingness to adapt and do ‘his bit’ for the team BUT, strip away the emotion, examine the future aspirations of Manchester City and, fair to say, James Milner wouldn’t and shouldn’t have been a regular choice in City’s First XI.
Money has always been dismissed as being a motivation for Milner’s switch to Liverpool. The media are quick to latch onto the ‘fact’ that he turned down £165,000 a week at City for a miserly £150,000 weekly pay packet on Merseyside.
Proof positive then that James is moving to a ‘great club, with history, the support, the squad…’ because, in his own words: “I’d like a trophy cabinet full of medals and, to be honest, that’s the reason I’ve come here.”
Maybe the Lancashire Cup, Johnstone Paints Trophy and the Fenway Sports Group Medal for Trying Hardest in Class – that’ll take up some space on the bottom shelf?
So, the fact that Milner – as was his prerogative – ran his contract down so he’d go on a Bosman and pocket a signing-on fee reputed to be anywhere between £5m- £7m, was never a factor?
Glad we cleared that one up, once and for all.
James has moved to win more medals at Liverpool than he would have at City, to work for what he appears to believe is a better manager in Rodgers, than Manuel Pellegrini and, the icing on the cake, he can play in his favourite central midfield position all-game, every game, because he didn’t get any ‘playing time’ at the Etihad.
Maths was never my strong suit, but Milner participated in 203 games in five seasons at City (an average of 40 per season) scoring 18 goals into the ‘bargain’.
No wonder the poor chap thought he was City’s Invisible Man.
Football, as we’re so often reminded, is more of a business nowadays than a sport. Loyalty is the exclusive domain of the fans.
For the overwhelming majority of Premier League players it’s a job – an obscenely well paid job – but that’s just the way it is.
It’s plain stupid when you hear or read City fans criticising their club for not doing more to keep Milner.
Pellegrini and Khaldoon could hardly have done more to try and retain the services of the 54-times capped England international.
Milner, on the other hand, could maybe have been a little more honest with the club and the supporters, at a time when he obviously had no intention of re-signing for the Sky Blues.
No, he decided to spin City a yarn where a ridiculous ‘will he’ or ‘won’t he’ soap opera flourished for months on end.
James played to the letter of the law rather than the spirit, therefore depriving City of an opportunity to recoup some of his £26m transfer fee.
Had he said he intended to leave City when terms were offered a year ago he would have probably missed out on his Bosman ‘bonus’.
He looked after ‘Number One’ and, in a shark-infested industry such as Premier League football, there are those who would endorse his actions. He’d honoured his obligations to City and owed them nothing.
It was a somewhat subtle and telling remark from Khaldoon, in his end of season review, when he said he was sad to see James Milner leave, describing him as one of his ‘favourite people’ at the Club.
He didn’t get the accolade as one of the Chairman’s favourite ‘players’.
Undoubtedly, City were sincere in their attempts to retain Milner but, had he not been English and an integral element in the vital ‘home-grown’ quota, one wonders if it would have been viewed as such a high priority.
His departure – for whatever reasons – can only be viewed in a correct light when City reveal the calibre of his replacement, amid a projected £200m upgrade to the first team squad.
Until then, fans who bemoan his loss would do well to keep their own counsel and desist from the assertion that Milner’s departure heralds the demise of City.
In a different take on Milner’s move from the Etihad, our guest contributor – a ‘colourful’ controversial football manager and head of youth development who wishes to remain anonymous – compares and contrasts the merits of crowd favourite James, with the oft maligned Javi Garcia who left City as a Premier League Champion, transferring to Zenit St Petersburg in the summer of 2014.
Football is a game that requires technical expertise, a ‘football’ brain and fitness – so why do supporters get over excited when only one of the three essential elements are present in a player?
Some Manchester City fans might consider this treason, but let’s examine the virtues and vices of two players perceived in completely different ways – James Milner and ex-Benfica and City holding midfielder, Javi Garcia.
From a technical coaching perspective one is massively under-rated, the other grossly over-rated.
Spanish midfielder Garcia arrived at City as the pick of a comparatively bad bunch of transfer buys in the summer of 2012.
Roberto Mancini had wanted Robin Van Persie from Arsenal and Daniele De Rossi from AS Roma, to help defend City’s first Premier League crown in 44 years and make inroads in the Champions League.
Instead Bobby Manc was handed Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Richard Wright, Matija Nastasic and Javi!
Little wonder City virtually handed the title – gift wrapped – to old Slur Baconface at The Swamp.
It took a while for Garcia to settle, not helped by often being played out of position at centre back, but he eventually proved his worth in 2013/14, helping guide City to six consecutive wins and a second Premier League crown.
He was an old school central defensive midfielder, disciplined, breaking up opposition play, pulling shirts, grabbing shorts, offering solid protection to his team’s back four defensive line…everything that, as a manager, you want from a CDM.
But then you have the perception of the fans who would claim ‘He’s bobbins, he never moves out of position, he’s not adventurous enough, what a waste of £16m…”
Frighteningly, it was also a view held by many with FA coaching badges, the people, tasked with getting English football back on track, building the foundations for future England international success.
And then we have James Milner – a great lad – bursting with energy, full of running, hard working, versatile, oh yes, the salt of the earth ‘Jimmy’ – the embodiment of an English grafter.
An alternative view from the manager’s dug-out would be:
James slows the game down too often due to his inability to control the ball effectively, he fails to deliver first time crosses and, his lack of balance means he finds it difficult to stay on his feet for any prolonged period of time
But, seen from the ‘terraces’, and more worryingly, those who hold the aforementioned coaching qualifications, he runs around a lot, pops up all over the pitch and wins corners by kicking the ball against the shins or backside of an opponent! What a wonderful asset.
It’s mental – the mentality in this country is all wrong!
We regularly seem to prefer the headless chicken over the positional discipline, the ‘kick & rush’ over the ‘pick the right pass’ or, put more bluntly, wrong over right!
Success at the highest level of the game boils down to decision-making; buying the right players, selecting the best team, adopting the right tactics, finding the formation and personnel to play the way you want.
Does this require versatility from the players? Yes, of course, and players such as James Milner provide such flexibility in a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ fashion.
But, the inescapable truth is that football needs more, so much more.
It needs the Pirlos, the Iniestas and the Silvas to make football the ‘Beautiful Game’, but for those creative forces to flourish you need the likes of Javi Garcia, far more than clones of James Milner.
Contrary to how it may appear, it’s not ‘Let’s have a pop at Milner because he’s gone to Liverpool time,’ but the contrast between Javi and Jimmy symbolises the difference in fundamental thinking and football philosophies.
English football has to plan and create what it needs to succeed, not pander to the misconceptions of unenlightened fans and sterile coaches.
The Germans have done it for years – why can’t we?
To conclude, James Milner played his part in the greatest period of Manchester City’s history.
He was fortunate to be surrounded by world class players such as Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany.
He made a great living during his time at the Etihad and, to all intent and purposes, Jimmy is a genuinely nice guy and thoroughly decent chap.
He wasn’t however a top drawer player, the sort City need if they are to win, and successfully defend, Premier League crowns and, ultimately conquer Europe.
It now behoves Txiki Begiristain, City’s Director of Football, to deliver a tangible upgrade in personnel this summer, thereby ensuring Milner is not missed anytime soon.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu