The Mystery of Milner

by Matt Quinn

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
 

Aston Villa 1 (Platt) Bradford City 0. Old Second Division. 1988. This was the first football match I ever watched and I instantly fell in love with Villa’s goal scoring hero, a fish shaped man called David Platt. I later came to realise he wasn’t that good but the point is that, at the time, I thought he was a footballing god. Since this halcyon day in 1988, I have had man-football-crushes on many players; players who could do no wrong in my eyes. Dean Saunders, Hristo Stoichkov, Juan Pablo Angel, Gheorge Hagi, Juan Carlos Valeron, Tomas Rosicky, Rui Costa, Lionel Messi have all held my affections for various periods of time and if I ever caught anyone bad mouthing these players I would instantly write that person off as a footballing moron, incapable of understanding the beautiful game and not worthy of having an opinion.

Unfortunately for a few regrettable souls, Newton’s law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction apparently applies to football, or at least my views on football. Down the years there have been players who, try as they might, could never capture my imagination or heart. On the whole these players were Aston Villa players. I would be forced to watch them play week in, week out without any real comprehension of how they actually became professional footballers. And so it was on Saturday, England vs Brazil, that I was forced to watch two of these poor unfortunates turn out (somehow) for England.

Shaun Wright-Phillips and James Milner were the two players in question and I will deal with both in turn.

Firstly and briefly, SWP. From all the match reports I have read, most commentators appear to agree with me with me on this one. SWP was bloody terrible and managed to squander possession almost every single time he received the ball. The one thing Capello has managed to drill into this England team is the importance of possession at international level. You cannot afford to be complacent with the ball and unfortunately for SWP, that appears to be his main talent. I would hope that his horror show on Saturday has finally put pay to his international career, particularly with more stellar and cultured talents to come back into the squad.

However, with James Milner the same cannot be said. Capello appears to rate him rather highly and judging from the press received, so do the football watching public. I saw one article on the BBC from their chief football writer stating that Milner had all but booked his place on the plane to South Africa following Saturday’s performance. I would be utterly astounded by this outlandish praise for Milner, if I didn’t watch Villa play each week. Each week I am left infuriated by Milner’s performances and lack of creativity and awareness when in possession. Each week I log onto chat-boards and read match-reports and find out Milner was voted Man of the Match. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a detachment from the general public on the assessment of a footballer before. I honestly feel Milner is a rather poor journeyman who is nothing more than a willing worker. Yes, he works hard and tracks back and runs a lot but this is the absolute minimum I expect from a footballer. I could work hard and track back and run a lot given a chance for Villa or England. In other countries this “quality” in a footballer is not held in such high esteem. In England however, a hard-worker always gets the fan’s approval. I understand this in essence, but the one thing I, personally, appreciate in a footballer is ability. An ability to manipulate a football in ways that I could never do. Milner has never managed to do this. His delivery from out wide is patchy, his passing is, at times, atrocious, his awareness and creativity when on the ball is negligible. I have never seen him beat a full-back with anything approaching genuine skill and his second touch is generally a tackle.

On Saturday, Milner was doing what he always does. Running around and not a lot else. That Darren Bent was not awarded a mark out of ten for his performance in some newspapers should be a damning indictment, not of the Sunderland man, but of the service he received from out wide and the supposedly creative instincts of Milner and SWP. As a Villa fan, I am aware that Ashley Young has not been on top form this year, but a 50% Young is still more creative and valuable to a team than James Milner ever will be. For the record, he also works just as hard as Milner. I cannot understand why Capello consistently overlooks Villa’s one true star in favour of his average workaholic club colleague. I would pass Milner’s selection off as an English foible, an obsession with graft, but Capello is Italian. Maybe, and it hurts to admit this, I am just wrong on this one. Maybe I will be eternally blinkered to Milner’s qualities and charms. Maybe it’s his funny little spiky hair that puts me off. Either way, my heart will continue to sink when I see his name on the teamsheet for club and country. God! – It comes to something when you are praying for Stuart Downing to return from injury to display to James Milner what a cultured and creative winger should look like.

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  • Matt Quinn

    Brief synopsis… i think James Milner is rubbish. Most overrated player of his generation.

  • Mike

    He’s like Gareth Barry, but without the compusure

  • Iain

    He’s okay. But not much better than that. everyone says that his versatility will work in his favour, but that is a bit false to me.

    I do like his willingness, and his determination, and he has a good shot on him, but as soon as other international teams get a look at him for England, they’ll work out that all you need to do is double up on him, and he’ll run it out of play or cross it to the keeper.

    We have better players for the left hand side of the pitch. I hope he doesn’t go to the world cup, but I’ll still support him if he does.

    Actually, he can take penalties can’t he? Get him on the plane! and give David Unsworth a call while you’re at it.

    p.s. SWP can’t pass on a flat surface. He was dire, and not good enough for the world cup. I would hate to play alongside him. Also, he can’t take penalties.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    I’ve done a double turn on milner, couldn’t stand him at first, he was average at best for newcastle, scored the odd goal, got stuck in blah blah, at villa he has been in sensational form, if u believe the press who seem to rate him and give him motm after motm. He’s been pretty decent last few England games too, but after watching closely on sat I totally see where you’re coming from, it’s only one game of course but his crossing was woeful.

    Milner is basically an English Dirk kyut, and that’s why he is liked, he gives 100% every game but lacks any real creativity. Why do you think he spent so long in the under 21’s?

  • Aber Villan

    what a pile of rubbish.
    Call your self a Villa fan, undercover Bluenose is what u are!
    UTV

  • dexylongshot

    He’s class, the tabloids can’t be wrong, The Mail, Mail on Sunday, People, NOTW, Mirror, i read the lot of them and over the last 3 months and last few England games, Milner is being recognised, surely they can’t all be wrong. There is more to his game than just hardwork, he’s two footed and can go past people. What about the set up for assist in the Holland game, his debut. What about the way he mugged two defenders a month ago before getting a shot off in an England shirt again. Getting a decent shot in on Saturday too. It’s a lot more than most of the team done in a performance that in my mind still gives us hope next year. The best team in the world (bar 2 players) could only score 1 more than our team (bar 9 players). I’d fancy us against Brazil with a first 11 on a cold day all day long. I’d definetely take Milner too. Joe Cole for me will be starting if fit and playing how is at the moment. He is the type of player Dunga identified that we were missing on Saturday. We was very poor in the center, Jenas & Huddlesone, they just haven’t got it at this level. I think the boy Milner has. Set pieces, penalties, Waddlesque shoulder drops and a head like a battering ram. Milner for England!!

  • Matt Quinn

    Aber Villan… i know you are probably trying to make me bite, but im going to anyway.

    Im not an undercover Blues fan. I am happy with almost every component of the current villa team. I think James Collins is fantastic – and could end up being better than Laursen. I think Brad Guzan will go on to be one of the top keepers in the world. I think Warnock is a fantastic player- as is Luke Young (very underrated). I like Petrov (who most Villa fans moan about) and i think Ashley Young is superb (again, despite most Villa fans moaning about him).

    I also stuck by Gabby last year despite the stick he was getting. You could tell he added something to the villa team, even when off form.

    I remember getting similarly slated when i said Steven Davis wasnt good enough for us. He’s hardly gone on to great things has he? I also got slated for saying Luke Moore would never make it. Again, i think i was proved right!

    So, im not a bluenose… i just get infuriated with the number of times Milner squanders possession. I cant wait for Downing to return. Then we will have Young and Downing to create. At the moment, if Young is crowded out the game then the rest of our midfield (including Milner) fail to provide any ammunition for our forwards. That is not good enough.

  • Richard

    Horrendous article, you are an idiot, i always like to be polite and respect other views but reading your drivel makes me makes me want to gouge my eyes out.

    Bolton 5 – 1 for Cuellars goal is evidence of a good cross, England U21 campaign in the summer for several good crosses. he has some skill and is fairly quick over the first 3 yards, its after that he can’t burn away from players, two footed, witness goal at Blackburn last season for evidence of this, much more two footed than Young.

    Ashley Young is an arrogant young man who beleives his own hype, he over hits crosses much more than Milner, dives and moans as well. No self respecting Villa fan would write this nonsense

    As for David Platt, he and Paul Mcgrath carried us to 2nd place in 89/90, and between them kept us is the divison in 90/91 under Dr Jo. 27 goals for England, he was a superb footballer, Juventus in the mid 90’s didn’t buy rubbish. I have issues with Platt as a person and his constant Villa bashing and failure to acknowledge us as an important part of his career, but as a player he was superb.

    I think you should start following another sport as you have no idead what you are on about.

    I expect your next article to be titled “Mcgrath and Laursen, I preferred Alpay and Colin Calderwood”

  • Matt Quinn

    Ps. Milner has missed two penalties this year.

  • Iain

    THe more I think about it, the more he will probably go to South Africa. Capello likes players who do what they’re told, and Milner certainly fits that category. Ashley Young seems to have propery peed off Don Fabio somewhere down the line. Shame, cos I think he’s a good player.

    However, Joe Cole vs Steven Gerrard (based on Capellos other squads) will be the first choice lefties I would have thought, meaning Milner could provide cover across the midfield, if there is a place in the squad.

    I don’t watch Milner week in week out, but when I have watched him for both Villa and Newcastle I’ve never thought much about him. He was good against the Dutch, and impressed me against Belarus, so maybe he’s the next Darius Vassell? good for England, less so for his club?

    Other people are allowed to rate him, but I just don’t.

  • dexylongshot

    Milner would have scored against West Ham last month if he was taking the penalty that day.
    Sorry matt dig dig!* Give us a bell next time your up, we can have a heated one & couple of jars before the game.

    *Granted Ashley did get one a bit later.

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  • Richard

    Ahley Young has missed 2, plus Arsenal last season, what exactly is your point.

  • Ashley Straw

    Personally, I wouldn’t begrudge him a place in the England squad at the world cup. He can play both sides of midfield and can even pitch in at full-back. Versatility is what you need in tournament football.

    If Owen Hargreaves isn’t fit (which is likely) he will probably be boarding the plane alonside Beckham, Wallcott, Joe Cole, Lennon as our wide options. Sound tasty to me!

  • colinmilk

    It’s Stewart Downing by the way.

  • benni

    He is rated because he is two footed and versatile. yeah, milner isnt as quick or creative as young, but he is still better than at least half of the options england have on the flank…and his versatility means he should get the nod over a few more. To me, that says more about youth development and the talent pool in england than it does milner’s ability.

    For the record, I’ve rated him since we had him on loan… but yes, I get your point. He doesnt take on full backs enough, and sometimes his delivery is lacking… I think this is why we still focus our attacks through young.

    Overall, I think your criticism is a little harsh, btu I get where you’re coming from.

  • Mike

    Good call on him being an English “Dirk Kuyt” he is good cover who does work hard for the England and Villa team respectively. He still needs to work on his composure in possesion, something that SWP most definitely needs to work on! I’d take him over SWP but nobody else really

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