Player Zone: Fabian Delph is showing his class and must embrace his inner James Milner to progress

Last Thursday, at Wembley Stadium, Fabian Delph captained England in a 3-0 friendly win over the USA. Being Wayne Rooney’s controversial send-off game and Callum Wilson’s debut for the Three Lions, Delph’s sporting of the armband perhaps flew somewhat under the radar.

However, the Manchester City man rose to the occasion with a committed, classy and tenacious midfield display. His performance earned him a place in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI for Sunday’s all-important Nations League clash against Croatia.

Although normal service was resumed with Harry Kane leading the team out of the tunnel, Delph continued to lead by example on the pitch as he put in another magnificent shift in the 2-1 triumph.

Delph repaid the England manager’s faith in him and will certainly have impressed many of the national team’s supporters and further convinced them of his suitability for this Three Lions squad. However, the 28-year-old still has some way to go if he is ever to fully receive the plaudits he deserves.

Watch Playmaker FC’s Thogden react to England’s dramatic second-half comeback against Croatia in the video below…

The drawback to playing for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is that it’s hard for the likes of Delph to shine amidst such a constellation of world class stars. The England man works hard for the Cityzens, covering vacancies here and there, filling in impressively as an auxiliary full-back, occasionally getting a run out in his favoured midfield berth against inferior opposition.

His role in the squad is a vital one, but in the grand scheme of City’s success and the attention they garner, it is a rather thankless duty, at least as far as the fans and media are concerned. Managers clearly appreciate the value of Delph’s selfless contributions, but he is capable of being so much more than a utility man, as he proved during this international break when he bossed a midfield battle against Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.

Bradford-born Delph is hardly the first player to have seen his true individual quality overlooked due to being a part of such a remarkable team, as he is at the Etihad Stadium. It was not so long ago that James Milner found himself in a similar situation with the Sky Blues. 

Milner, himself from Bradford’s neighbour city Leeds, was a wonderful servant to City. Yet, he was never a headline grabber – it’s hard to be when you share a pitch with the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero every week. It was not until Milner moved to Merseyside and found himself able to thrive under Jurgen Klopp – and break a Champions League assists record in the Reds’ run to the final of the competition – that Milner got paid his long-overdue plaudits. 

It seems, that for Delph to receive such appreciation, he too may have to seek a way out of the Etihad. His England career may hinge on it. 

Even though he is considered an integral part of the national team squad now, his club level circumstances could dictate his involvement on the international stage. As he is not a regular starter for City, he could soon find himself being forgotten, and thus pushed to the margins of Southgate’s thinking.

Had Milner moved away from Manchester sooner, would he not have perhaps garnered more than his 61 caps before his international retirement in 2016? He was a much more regular fixture in the City starting XI than Delph too.

The similarities between these two midfielders, and the paths their careers have taken in the game, are striking. Both made their name at Leeds United, as dynamic attacking midfielders. Both later ended up at Manchester City, via spells with Aston Villa during which they developed significantly as players (Milner also spent time at Newcastle United). Both then became useful as regular stand-in left-backs. They’re even the same height: 5’9”, and have similarly driven, battling playing styles.

Delph must now learn from the 32-year-old’s actions and make the kind of move that made Milner the vital, first team player he now is. Delph has the capacity for that too,  but has little chance of nailing down a regular starting spot in Guardiola’s midfield.

If he does leave and find his place as a regular starter for another top club, he could see his reputation hit new heights and become an even more integral member of Southgate’s England team as a result.