The Curious Case of Aston Villa’s James Milner

There are several English footballers that will be nervously waiting for a call from Fabio Capello in a few months time. One of these borderline players is James Milner, capable of playing on either wing, in central midfield and at a push at fullback so why should he be nervous. Such a talented and adaptable player would be invaluable in the squad so why the uncertainty?

Milner has played in the Premier League for over 7 years despite being only 24 years old. In fact he held the record as the Premier League’s youngest goal scorer in 2002 and has flourished ever since. He is a powerful player who puts as much effort into his defensive duties as his attacking play. He also has good delivery into the box which goes some way to make up for his own comparative lack of goals.

This season Milner has been converted to a central midfielder in the Aston Villa side. This move has worked well for the player and he has shone alongside Stiliyan Petrov. Such a move however puts Milner in competition with England stalwarts, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard so arguably it limits his World Cup chances. Capello is however a very pragmatic manager and the versatility that Milner offers is appealing to the Italian.

Despite his merits Milner has struggled to gain the international recognition he deserves. He has had an unsettled career, playing for Leeds and Newcastle United, as both clubs started to implode. Before Martin O’Neill took over at Aston Villa Milner had played under 13 different managers in his short career. Such instability is as damaging for players as it was for the clubs he played for. The assurance and confidence that O’Neill has been able to instil in Milner has seen an improvement in Milner’s form and the international recognition he deserves.

Milner has for a long time been a regular in the England under 21 side, in fact racking up a record 46 caps. Milner was seen as a talented player worthy of gaining experience in the national set up but was unable to make the final step into the full England squad. He put in many strong performance in the under 21 side but in theory no player should get that many caps for a youth side. A player should ideally either move on to the senior side or be moved aside for another player to gain experience. The fact that consecutive managers deemed Milner appropriate for only the under 21 side showed an interest in the player but an uncertainty despite his potential. He was deemed worthy of note but not quite good enough for the senior side. Despite the pride of representing his country it must have been a frustrating time for Milner.

This season has however seen Milner get the senior recognition he deserves, earning 6 caps for the full national side. I believe that Milner is a very strong candidate for the World Cup and seemingly Fabio Capello is starting to share this assessment. No players in contention for the extra midfield positions offer as much as Milner. Although Aaron Lennon has greater acceleration, and David Beckham has better delivery they can not offer the range of skills and determination of Milner. He would run himself into the ground, as he has done for Stuart Pearce and his under 21 side, if his manager asked him to.

Fabio Capello is a manager who values effort and determination and there are few players that are hungrier for success than the humble Milner. Milner has been the bridesmaid of English international football for too long and perhaps this summer he will finally emerge to take his deserved staring role in the England senior side. He will certainly not let anyone down if he gets his chance.

Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EwanNisbet