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James Milner Must Play Central Midfield at His Next Club to Fulfil Potential

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15:  James Milner of Manchester City in action during the Budweiser FA Cup Third Round Replay match between Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers at the Etihad Stadium on January 15, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMay 18, 2014

Whether he's on the pitch or not, James Milner's remarkable talent is being wasted at Manchester City.

The Mirror report that the England international, headed to Brazil with Roy Hodgson as a jack-of-all-trades option, will push through a transfer that will see him leave the Citizens after the 2014 FIFA World Cup finishes.

It's about time as well.

No one can deny Milner made the right choice in choosing to swap Villa Park for the Etihad Stadium. While his former club have dropped like a stone since he left, City have allowed him to win two Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one Capital One Cup and play at some of the most storied venues in Europe.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15:  James Milner of England battles with Slawomir Peszko (17) and Grzegorz Krychowiak (8) of Poland during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group H match between England and Poland at Wembley Stadium on October 15, 2013 in Lon
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

But there comes a time when a player must balance achievements with minutes on the pitch, and it seems Milner has had his fill.

He made a choice in the summer of 2010 when he left Villa, and he's due to make the reverse decision four years on.

He started just 12 Premier League games this season, and while his impact was felt over the course of the season—not least by scoring the third goal at the Allianz Arena in December—he was far from a key cog in City's title win.

When he did play, he played on the right wing. That may have been his position in 2008, but the modern version of James Milner wants to play central midfield every week.

"Wherever the manager wants me to play, I'll do it to the best of my ability," the Leeds United academy graduate told The Telegraph upon signing for Roberto Mancini.

But I enjoy playing in the middle. That's probably my best position and where I've shown by best form over the past 18 months. 

I've been most creative and scored goals from there and I've enjoyed it immensely. 

I think that's where the boss has signed me to play.

It was his consistent, game-winning performances at Aston Villa that convinced Manchester City to spend some £25 million on him. When you give him the keys to the game, more often than not he'll come up trumps.

However, at City he's been on the periphery even as a winger. While Yaya Toure plus one have always locked the midfield down, there were opportunities to use Milner centrally that weren't taken.

He's had enough, and with a trophy-laden cabinet warming his lounge, he's at liberty to make a career move based solely on which position he'll play. Every player wants to win honours, and Milner now has more (quantity-wise) than Italian legend Francesco Totti.

At 28 years of age, there are few players who are at liberty to do this and Premier League teams should be offering him the earth to secure his signature at this point.

He brings drive, creativity, dribbling ability and an eye for goal to the centre of the pitch. If you're looking for a central midfield comparison in terms of style and tendencies, look no further than what Aaron Ramsey has brought to Arsenal in the past 12 months.

For teams like Liverpool and Chelsea, he represents that all-important value of an English player to add to their homegrown UEFA Champions League lists. For the likes of Everton and Southampton, he's the man who can help propel them to the next level in football.

Or perhaps sentiment will take him back to Newcastle United, where he made his name, or Aston Villa, where he became a star?

Wherever he moves, you can bet which position he'll play in will be a major—if not the sole—factor in his decision. His luxurious position of previous achievement allows him that enviable choice.

 

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