Aston Villa’s side, even since the summer departure of captain Gareth Barry, has a lot of high profile names, with the likes of Ashley Young, the experienced John Carew and the energetic prospect Gabriel Agbonlahor being the foundations of the side. Then you have another of their key men, quietly going about his business of helping Villa in their quest to compete with the ‘big four’ and standing less in the limelight; James Milner is my pick of the Premier Leagues unsung heroes.
Milner is a product of the golden generation of Leeds United. He was coming through the ranks at Elland Road in a start of the century Leeds side that was full of young exciting talent. Milner’s potential was there for all to see. He became the youngest ever player to score in the Premier League (a record that has since been broken) and was widely tipped as one of England’s next big youngsters. However with the decline of the Yorkshire club, Milner was sold to Newcastle and although he was still making steady progress and developing as a player, he dropped out the spotlight.
After a loan spell on with Aston Villa, Milner was later signed by the Midlands club, as Martin O’Neill splashed out £12 million for the midfielder in the summer of 2008. At the time many people, including myself, thought this to be an extortionate amount for a player who was yet to compete at international level for his country, however I am one the many people who are now eating their words.
Milner has been one of the main contributors to Villa’s success in the last year, having a notably impressive season last season as well as beginning the current campaign in fine form. The ex-Leeds man, still only 23, provides a host of attributes to the Villa side that are priceless. He is arguably one of the most versatile players around, he boasts the ability to be able to strike the ball with both feet and can slot in anywhere in the midfield and has even been known to play at right back in the past. During his time at Newcastle, when asked, Milner responded that he had no preference what position he played in, illustrating his enthusiasm to perform anywhere on the pitch. On top of this, Milner is incredibly hard working and utilises his pace and technical ability in aid of both defence and attack for Villa.
It appears Milner is finally beginning to receive some of the credit that the young midfielder undoubtedly deserves. In August of this year, Milner finally received his first senior international cap, coming on as a substitute in a friendly against Holland, assisting a goal for Tottenham striker Jermaine Defoe with a low cross. The unsung hero must have thought that his days as an England senior international may never come after becoming like a piece of furniture in the under 21’s dressing room, racking up an incredible 46 appearances for the youth side over 5 years. However now the Villa man is staking a serious claim for a regular slot in the senior squad and with performances like this season he is sure to give manager Fabio Capello lots of reasons to hand him a seat on that plane to South Africa.
The Villa man is not only justifying his hefty price tag, but also proving that he is instrumental to a side with aspirations of breaking the top four. At only 23, Milner has time on his side. Although one of the leagues unsung heroes at the minute, if he continues performing like he has, for club and for country, then the name James Milner is one that will become more and more talked about.