James Milner has become a key player for Manchester City this season outshining their high-earning, high-maintenance global superstars. That's ironic. Once more, for all their money and title-winning potential, the Citizens can't seem to convince Milner to stay beyond the current season.
The 29-year-old is into the last six months of his contract and is free to talk to overseas clubs. If his contract runs out he will be able to join Manchester City's main title rivals for absolutely nothing. That won't just be tragedy for Manuel Pellegrini, but a triumph for whoever bags his signature.
Now The Express are saying both Liverpool and Arsenal have made tantalising offers for the utility man. Brendan Rodgers wants Milner to be the main man in the heart of his midfield, replacing the departing Steven Gerrard. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger is promising Milner a prominent role as the hard-working foil for their attacking talents.
His tenacity and endeavour would add grit to what is an otherwise fluent and soft-styled Gunners side. The balance of a Gunners team with Milner in it would be a thing of beauty.
Whoever wins this battle, they will be rewarded with one of the most hardworking and professional footballers in the Premier League. To boot, he will also count as a homegrown talent.
But where would Milner fit in best? Any contract he signs now is likely to be the last big deal of his career. He needs to be well paid, but he also needs assurances that he will get first team football for at least the next three seasons.
That is something Manchester City just can not offer. Their budget is too high and their loyalty too low. As soon as a continental whizzkid comes on the market you can be sure their Arabian owners will be demanding his signature.
Stability is the key
He may be their player of the season, but there is nothing to stop the spending spree from knocking him out of the team or a change of manager for him to fall out of the first team plans altogether.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are desperately trying to make up for their huge error in judgement in letting Gerrard leave. Milner comes with a reputation as a hard worker and has the experience to fill that defensive role Rodgers had earmarked for his captain.
However, a final title between now and the end of his career is unlikely to come should he move to Anfield. Liverpool came so close last year but are now rebuilding. It is an exciting project that most footballers would dream to be apart of. But like Pellegrini, Rodgers' job is not nearly as secure as, say, Wenger's at Arsenal is.
The stability in the Arsenal squad is enviable. The team currently at Arsenal could be great. It could win titles. Alexis Sanchez is the star of the show, Mesut Ozil the puppetmaster and Milner could be the glue holding everything together.
The best option
Anfield appears to be the best destination for Milner. Replacing Gerrard is the kind of role a man in his prime should jump at. Turning out for the famous outfit in front of a packed Kop is something a northern lad like Milner is unlikely to resist.
However, Arsenal are building a dynasty and probably have the most exciting project in the Premier League. The stability that comes with Wenger's reign means Milner is likely to get guarantees no other club can offer.
The importance of Milner's decision cannot be underestimated. He has often been lampooned for his 'boring' style, but he is becoming the complete player. His headed goal against Stoke City came at a crucial time and his superb free-kick against Hull City could prove to be crucial in a tight title race.
His final decision, whether he stays or goes, will likely play a big role in next season's title race as well: he is that good.
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