There was a moment during the second half of England’s friendly with Norway Wednesday night when Manchester City’s James Milner, who had replaced Jack Wilshere with 20 minutes remaining, tried to play a pass out wide. Milner sliced it horribly and the ball flew out for a throw in and England had to reset their defensive shape.
It wasn’t Milner’s finest moment, but the reaction, as it so often is when England players are involved, has been over-the-top, via Telegraph Sport. Milner has been ridiculed, with his pass inexplicably seen as a counter-argument to those who have labelled him reliable in the past.
It’s indicative of the hysterical reaction to the England football team in general, but Milner has more pressing issues at City to worry about than unnecessary criticism of a misplaced pass. He has less-than 12 months remaining on his current deal and wants to see whether he will be involved more often than he was last season before committing beyond next summer.
The club are likely to want to keep him, given his reputation as a model professional, his ability to play in a number of roles and his status as a “home-grown” player, yet Milner himself is growing disillusioned. Daniel Taylor, a reliable and well-informed Guardian journalist who covers City closely, suggested at the end of last season that Milner wanted assurances over playing time, as well as expressing a desire to play in central midfield more often.
The problem, of course, is that City have a wealth of options in the middle of the pitch, and it’s unlikely Milner is going to break in there any time soon. Last season, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho formed a formidable partnership, and Fernando's arrival from Porto has added further competition for places.
Fernando has impressed so far and looks set to play a big role this season, further limiting Milner's chances. And out on the wings, City start with David Silva and Samir Nasri, their two most creative players who are almost-guaranteed to start important matches. The pace of Jesus Navas makes him Pellegrini's first-choice to replace either of those two during a game.
All of which paints a fairly bleak picture of Milner's chances of playing more. However, Alvaro Negredo’s transfer to Valencia on deadline day may bring further opportunities Milner’s way. Manuel Pellegrini appears to have sanctioned the sale of the 23-goal striker on the basis he has plenty of fluidity in his forward players, most notably Yaya Toure and David Silva’s ability to operate in the No. 10 role.
If Negredo’s exit leads to Toure and Silva frequently shifting roles, Milner’s chances of first-team action increase significantly. Whether it turns out to be enough to convince him to stay remains to be seen, but The Beast’s departure should benefit the England man.
Milner's hard-work is well known, yet the technical side of his game is less well-documented. He can pass, dribble, shoot and tackle superbly, and he often finds his best performances against the top sides. His display against Liverpool at Anfield last season, where his introduction saw City spark into life, was a brilliant example of his ability.
It's a delicate situation. City want him to stay but are blessed with an exceptional midfield and Milner feels that, at 28, he needs and deserves to be playing more. It's difficult to see him remaining at City beyond this season.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_
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