'Boring James Milner' may be a hit on Twitter but the Manchester City midfielder is anything but in real life.
His performances this season have finally made the majority of City fans realise just what an asset they have on their hands and how they have taken him for granted in the past. Milner may not have the flair of players such as David Silva, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas but he arguably contributes more to the team than any of those players.
Milner has the engine of a racehorse. He broke the record for distance covered in a Premier League game this season when he ran 13.56km against Stoke on Wednesday. But there is far more to his game than just running.
He is one of the most versatile players in the league having filled in at full back, defensive midfielder, winger and attacking midfield during his career and he is effective in any of those positions. Under Roberto Mancini and now Manuel Pellegrini he has frequently started big games on the wing, as he provides strong support for his full back whilst he has the lung capacity to worry opposition defences with his great crossing ability.
Yet Milner is still seen by some as an undesirable. With the billions that the Sheikhs possess, some would like to see Milner step aside so players who may look more appealing, such as Navas for example, can get a fair chance. This may only be a small minority though, as most connected with the Manchester club are desperate for Milner to stay.
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He is out of contract in the summer and is weighing up his options before making his next move. Arsenal and Liverpool have supposedly been long time admirers of the 29-year-old and the ex-Newcastle player is aware of just how quickly things can change at his current club. He believes he is only in the first-team at this moment in time due to Nasri and Silva being injured and Yaya Toure being at the African Cup of Nations.
City manager Pellegrini confirmed on Wednesday that everyone at the club wants the Yorkshireman to pen a new deal, but the decision is down to him. He said: "When you are trying to sign a contract you need both parties to agree to it, so that is why it is not so easy to get it signed. But I repeat the most important thing is that the club wants Milner to stay here and he has to decide what he wants to do with his future."
The signs are that Milner could keep City waiting until the end of the season – when he can make a proper assessment of his playing time over the course of the campaign– before making his decision.
The next step
Liverpool could be the perfect next step in Milner's career. Brendan Rodgers treats all his players with respect and allows them to blossom with a sustained run of games in the team even when they are struggling.
In the first two months of the season, Mario Balotelli was constantly picked despite his poor goal-scoring record, albeit that main striker Daniel Sturridge was injured. Milner is not a player who struggles for confidence and if picked constantly he can make the doubters sit up and take notice.
With Steven Gerrard's imminent departure, Liverpool need someone in the engine room. It would mean yet another change of position for the Yorkshireman but he would take to it like a duck to water; he has before.
He has good vision, power and strength and would seamlessly assume Gerrard's role. There is of course huge pressure for the person who follows in Gerrard's footsteps but Milner is in arguably in the biggest pressure-cooker in world football at City. They demand three points in every game and more often than not players like Milner get the finger of blame if they don't.
Arsenal is another option for the player signed by City from Aston Villa in 2010 for £26 million. The Gunners have a lot in common with City in the way their footballing model is free flowing, but every team needs some grit and this is an area that Arsenal have been heavily criticised for in the last few years. They have lacked genuine steel ever since Patrick Vieira departed these shores in 2005.
Milner could fill that gap which Alex Song plugged on a temporary basis a few seasons ago. With him screening the back-four, players such as Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott could be much more free-roaming and make the north London club into a Premier League force once again.
If Milner does walk away from City in the summer, there should be a serious scramble for his services. He has a hell of a lot to offer any club in the league and with no transfer fee it may well be one of the bargains of the year. Not that wages are an issue for Milner. He just wants to play regular football. Boring...
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