James Milner is an international enigma. He splits debate amongst England fans. Some think he is a valuable utility player that is an essential commodity at a major tournament, but some cannot see what he adds to an England side that looks to be heading down the route of pace and creativity.
Ask Roy Hodgson, however, and he'd probably be in the first group of thought. Believe it or not, Milner is likely to be one of the first names Hodgson will pencil in next year for the trip to the World Cup.
Milner's case for a spot on the trip is a curious one at first glance because his career at club level appears to have stagnated. The money Manchester City spent on him was entirely justified at the time, and he broke through into the international setup initially due to his sparkling form at Aston Villa. He was beginning to justify the hype that had accompanied his explosion onto the scene as a 16-year-old at Leeds.
The problem with moving to a club like City at a time when they were spending money like it was going out of fashion was painfully obvious. A dip in form from Milner—or anyone for that matter—and they would be out of the team for another signing.
Milner is incredibly versatile, though, and an incredibly solid and reliable player. Whilst that may not appeal to club level—especially when you have the likes of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, David Silva and many more in your ranks—it is something that strikes a chord with Roy Hodgson.
The England manager is without doubt a fan of the midfielder, and the stats show that Milner is almost a certainty to be on the plane to Brazil—barring injury of course.
Tuesday's victory over Poland which secured qualification to the World Cup was Hodgson's 22nd game in charge of England. Only Joe Hart (20) has played more times than Milner (19) under Hodgson. No other outfield player has turned out for the national side as often as James Milner under the current management, despite Milner's lack of ability to hold down a regular spot at City.
There are even more justifications hidden in the stats to suggest Milner is a certainty for the World Cup. Milner began his international career in August 2009 in a friendly against the Netherlands. Between then and Hodgson's arrival as manager in 2012, Milner turned out just 23 times in almost three years. In 15 months, Milner has almost doubled his caps for England under Hodgson.
How he has earned his caps makes for interesting reading too. In fact, they seem to suggest he is the reliable, solid midfielder England can rely on in tough times.
|Opponent||Mins Played||Result||Score When Came On (if Substitute)|
|Scotland||23||W 3-2||Drawing 2-2|
|Moldova||20||W 4-0||Winning 4-0|
|Ukraine||90||D 0-0||Started the game|
|Montenegro||3||W 4-1||Winning 3-1|
|Poland||4||W 2-0||Winning 1-0|
The table indicates that in Milner's last five games, he has started only one. That, however, was the only game away from home—the game in Ukraine which England could not afford to lose. It was a game where a rigid, hard-earned point was required, and Milner more than played his part in that.
What it also shows is that Milner is a man to call on when the going is tough. Take the Scotland friendly for example.
The game was in the balance at 2-2, but Milner came on in the 67th minute and England didn't concede again. In fact, they haven't conceded on the previous five occasions Milner has been on the field. The final two qualifiers of the campaign saw England holding slender leads. Milner helped to preserve those leads and aided to see the game out.
James Milner is a valuable commodity to have at a major international tournament. He may not be the most creative, technically gifted midfielder England possess.
But he does give Roy Hodgson something completely different, which is consistency. And that is exactly why you should expect to see Milner in Brazil next year.
What do you think? Is Milner good enough to go to Brazil? Is he a valuable part of England's plans? Let us know below and get the debate started!