There probably aren’t many people around today who haven’t heard the phrase ‘everyone’s a winner’. It’s a expression that is used time and time again in life, but just recently it wouldn’t be too surprising to hear it uttered in the corridors of Villa Park or the City of Manchester Stadium.
As a public staring harsh financial times in the face, it seems we are obliged to criticise both the player and the purchasing club in any megabucks transfer. Fair enough. In the case of James Milner, a talented and likeable young English player who has, we assume, been corrupted by the club labelled ‘big, bad Manchester City’ by Randy Lerner, the feeling of anguish is particularly vehement. The protracted transfer left such a bitter taste that it helped drive Martin O’Neil to resignation, while just a few minutes of watching You’re on Sky Sports on Wednesday gave a clear indication that Britain’s football-loving community considered the transfer as a confirmation of the cruel financial dominance of Manchester City and the limitless greed and lack of loyalty present among Premiership footballers.
But why exactly are we so riled by this transfer? After all, hasn’t everyone done pretty darn well out of it?
Despite all of their high profile activity in the market this summer, it is only with the signing of Milner that City have finally landed their main target, and at a price that, if we are to believe widespread media reports, they had always been willing to pay. Roberto Mancini didn’t consider Stephen Ireland sufficiently talented or glamorous to warrant a place in his team. But for all their defensive midfield players, without Ireland City lacked a player who can score goals from the middle of the park last season. Milner is that player, and his signing could push them into the top four.
The transfer also emphasises City’s new position as a ‘big club’. If Manchester United want a player, they usually get him. City are following the same blue print, and their ability to lure Milner is a statement of intent to their rivals. Three years ago, City and Villa were at a similar level. Those days are gone. When Milner heard of City’s interest he jumped at the chance to join Mancini’s revolution. This signing, above all others, demonstrates to the whole Premier League that City really are one of the big boys.
If City are pleased to have their man, Milner will undoubtedly be ecstatic with the deal. As well as bumper wages and a sizeable signing on fee, the former Leeds midfielder has also signed up for a chance to genuinely compete for top honours. Some have questioned whether he will get into City’s starting eleven, but with all due respect to Villa, at 24 the time has come for Milner to test himself at a higher level. If he wants to become a top player, and we have to assume that he does, he needs to be training with players like David Silva and Yaya Toure every day.
There’s little doubt that this move is make or break for Milner, but if he’s good enough, he’ll develop into a fine player at Eastlands and could become a fixture in a City side that challenges for the title and Champions League. It’s an opportunity he should relish and one that probably justifies his decision to navigate a route away from Villa Park.
So if Manchester City and Milner are clearly winners in the transfer, then poor old Aston Villa must be losers? Wrong. Villa will be disappointed to have lost Milner, who was arguably their top performer last year, but in reality they have sold him for a huge sum, one which even Milner’s biggest fans would struggle to argue that he is worth. The fact that Ireland was included in the deal is a further bonus for Villa, as he will provide the attacking drive from midfield that made Milner such a valuable asset.
The exact quantity of Milner’s sale revenue that will be available for transfers is open for debate, but if they spend wisely, preferably on a striker who can guarantee them 15 goals a season and take some pressure off Gabby Agbonlahor, then there is no reason why Villa can’t improve as a team and push on from last season’s sixth place finish. Yes, they have lost Martin O’Neil, but the storm clouds have been present for some time. The Irishman had grown disillusioned at Villa Park, and his departure has long been a formality. The king’s ransom gained from the Milner sale and the new signings that should follow will soften the blow that has already been aided by Kevin MacDonald’s impressive start in the Villa hotseat.
So Man City have their man. Milner has his move, and will surely develop into a top player for England as a result. Villa have a replacement and a hefty load of Arab gold to boot. What exactly is all the fuss about? Yes, there’s silly money involved, and yes, it could be spent on other things, but that’s not what the transfer market is about. It’s about paying millions of pounds for someone whose only talent is kicking a plastic sphere around. Football transfers are rarely morally sound, but they are exciting. With eleven days of the transfer window left, I’m hooked, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Written By Gareth Roberts