Earlier this week City finally got their man, agreeing a deal with Villa to sign James Milner. The England international will join the Eastlands revolution with Stephen Ireland moving in the opposite direction in a package reportedly worth £26 million. Milner is one of the most accomplished midfielders of his age in the Premier League although many would question the fee paid for him. Arsene Wenger would arguably be one of those having repeatedly criticised the overstated value of English players, opting instead to scout promising youngsters and sharpen their skills. It is a patient approach but one which has recently found favour with old foe Sir Alex Ferguson. In view of this transfer is their methodology the practical way forward?
The former Newcastle and Leeds man grew frustrated at his own protracted transfer saga this week, urging Manchester City to complete the deal. They duly obliged taking their summer spending spree to well over £100 million, although Milner’s singing is expected to have completed their transfer activity. Roberto Mancini is pleased to have secured the services of the rising England star who is committed, energetic, has an excellent work rate and is technically strong. Aston Villa fans would concur with those superlatives as Milner received a standing ovation when he was substituted in his final game for the club on Saturday. He signed off with a powerfully accurate left-foot shot to score Villa’s third goal of the game in their routine victory over West Ham.
It was the display of a consummate professional who has received rave reviews since featuring on Newcastle United’s left wing. His departure to Villa in 2008 was too much for former Magpies boss, Kevin Keegan who promptly resigned. The player flourished at Villa particularly after moving to the centre of midfield. It was in this position that Milner could exhibit his full range of passing, shooting accuracy, dynamism and not be exposed for a lack of pace. However, it was his reputation as a utility man which first impelled Fabio Capello to introduce him to the England squad. He was once used as a wing back and mainly played on the right wing at the World Cup. Fellow Italian Mancini has also expressed his delight that Milner can play in a range of roles. It will be interesting to witness how his skills will be used in Manchester City’s extensive team.
Cynics may baulk at the fee paid for a utility midfielder but all the top clubs in the country would have arguably welcomed a player of his talent. Yet the fee paid for Milner and the extent of City’s transfer spending is only sustainable for a club with an estimated wealth 60 times that of Chelsea. The absence of any other serious bidders in this exhaustive deal supports Wenger’s established view that domestic talent is over-valued in England when young foreign players have comparably better technique, skill and quality on the ball. It is a dilemma that Wenger believes will only intensify due to the Premier League’s new 25-man squad rule which he has described as “a disaster.” Part of his critique is the stipulation that 8 of this number must be ‘home grown’ which he believes will inevitably put a greater premium and therefore price on English talent.
Wenger has found an unlikely ally in Sir Alex Ferguson who this week attacked “kamikaze spending.” His comments could only have been intended for his neighbours who seem to be progressively annoying him. Having been linked with Milner earlier this summer, a feature of Manchester United’s transfer policy has been using their substantial scouting networks to sign gifted but unheralded foreigners such as Bebe. PL managers will soon adopt the role of chancellors and finance ministers, each seeking to boast about their own financial responsibility. After Milner’s transfer to City clubs like Arsenal and United will be looking to produce top domestic and foreign talent rather than expensively acquire it.