After the success of recent years, Manchester City fans might not be as accustomed as they once were to the current feeling of disappointment as the team languish fourth in the table.
A further blow could be on the way with the real possibility that James Milner could walk away from the club this summer and join a Premier League rival on a free transfer.
Milner has been with City since a big money move from Aston Villa back in 2010, but the terms he signed when joining have not been extended. Despite never letting his current employers down, it seems his time in the light blue could be coming to an end.
The player has been offered a new deal according to his manager Manuel Pellegrini, but has yet to commit. The Chilean has elected to start Milner in less than half of his side’s league games this season and perhaps this represents the crux of the problem for the man in question.
The situation surrounding the midfielder will be under close observation around the Premier League and beyond. Arsenal and Liverpool are both said to be interested and reports suggest offers from Spain and Italy already on the table. Should the former Villa, Newcastle and Leeds man elect to move on, which would be the most suitable destination?
Most midfielders would jump at the chance of joining Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and with the Gunners’ late season run propelling them well above City, it would seem like the right move at the right time for the England international.
The London side can offer an attractive attacking philosophy and almost guarantee Champions League qualification but what they cannot offer the 29-year-old is a nailed-down first-team place. The wealth of engine room competition at the Emirates Stadium would represent a significant challenge to a player who, at this stage in his career, will be looking to feature week-in, week-out. If Wenger was interested, it would be up to Milner to decide whether he could force himself into the team in North London.
Much closer to home, Liverpool to be exact, would be the easier option. Milner’s all-action style would go some way to filling the gap at Anfield left by Steven Gerrard when he finally moves on this summer.
The current heir to the throne, Jordan Henderson, possesses similar qualities but there is no reason why the two could not play together.
Milner’s versatility would also be an asset to him here, as he could occupy various roles within Brendan Rodgers’ flexible system; central midfield, wide attacker or even right wing-back, a role he has successfully filled in the past.
There is no doubt that the Leeds-born man would fit more easily into the first team at Liverpool than he would at Arsenal, but the Merseysiders look likely to miss out on the Champions League, which could prove a stumbling block.
At this stage in the season, if Liverpool miss out on entry to Europe’s top club competition it will be because City have qualified at their expense. With Milner starting a young family, perhaps rejecting all suitors and staying put could actually be his best option.
The resolution depends on the player’s priorities, both footballing and personal. In terms of his playing career, he must evaluate if he prizes quantity over quality when it comes to game time. There is still a chance though that he might not have to.
His coach is on thin ice and perhaps the player is simply waiting to see what City do in terms of their next managerial move before making his decision.
With a new man at the helm offering some assurances, the midfielder may not need to leave Manchester after all.