James Milner has certainly been stirring waves this season.
During the opening months of the 09-10 campaign, he was praised for his play down the right, with many commentators picking up on his high work rate, good delivery, and calm temperament. Later on, he was switched to central midfield by Martin O'Neill and has gone on to shine, leading some to suggest that he is the solution to England's long standing central midfield problem.
Certainly, Milner's talent has never been in doubt, and recently he has developed something of a reputation as a versatile utility man. Accordingly, towards the end of the season, he has been linked with moves all over the place. The main contenders in many minds will be Manchester City and their cross-city rivals Manchester United. This, of course, assumes he will move.
But will he actually leave?
Villa have already rejected a 20 million pound advance from Manchester City, and both Milner, O'Neill, and club owner Randy Lerner have all stated that he will be playing at Villa Park next season. However, it is worth pointing out that the same was said about Lescott and Ronaldo last season, before their respective owners agreed to let them go.
So what are the merits of Milner moving to City?
Well, it must be said that, in all reality, the only motivating factor here would be the money. City are willing to pay ludicrous sums of money on a player and then lavish ridiculous wages on them in an attempt to lure them in. They would reportedly offer the England international a contract worth in excess of 100,000 pounds a week and are supposedly set to up their offer to 25 million following the rejection of their first bid.
Milner would be set to join a team which currently spends 97 percent of its turnover on wages—and his signature would certainly mean that, just on wages, Manchester City would be paying out more than they take in, without even taking into account other outgoings such as pitch maintenance, tax, etc.
However, there are a plethora of reasons why Milner will, in all likelihood, not make the move to Eastlands.
First off, the money factor that would inspire his move would also serve as a demotivating factor. Generally seen as England's next "golden boy," and commonly praised as one of the few remaining footballers to remain loyal to his employers, a move to City would see Milner instantly demonised as being another "mercenary" in the mould of Adebayor or Tevez.
Many Villa fans have already made their feelings clear that they don't believe Milner would cross to Eastlands for this reason, believing that he is not interested in the money but more in the football. By any account, Milner is already paid ridiculous sums of money at Villa (50,000 a week, more or less) and so in this writer's opinion, any footballer that moves for extra cash is far too greedy.
Milner's place on the England team could also come under threat if he joined the ever increasing mass of Sky-Blues, as he would not be guaranteed regular first team action. Milner only needs to look at the astonishing backwards progression of players like Joleon Lescott, Shaun Wright Phillips, and Roque Santa Cruz to see that a big-money move to Manchester City is not always good for a players career.
At a time when Lampard and Gerrard are reaching the end of their England careers, Milner can ill afford to sit on the bench. By contrast, O'Neill's Villa side is very much dependent on his industry in the centre of the park and he is much more likely to catch the eye of Fabio Capello where he is.
City cannot offer anything competition wise that Villa can't. Both teams will be playing in the Europa League next season, and both teams are still considered to be in the newly founded "Fourth Chaser" pack. Milner would not be able to justify the move as a "step up."
On club level, Aston Villa hardly needs the money, meaning that City cannot necessarily bully Villa into selling, as they did with Lescott. It will be much more down to the player's choice. Lerner, as stated above, has made it clear that he does not wish to sell and Martin O'Neill is quoted saying that the club will "sit down after the world Cup and tie Milner to a long-term contract."
Altogether, the idea of Milner moving to City seems unlikely.
So how about United?
Reportedly, United are considering a 28 million pound bid for the midfielder and unlike City, the club can definitely be considered a step up, being able to offer Milner Champions League football and a genuine shot at the Premier League Title.
Money would be of little issue, in terms of wages, as United are, in terms of income, the richest club in world football and would not be affected significantly by FIFA's incoming rules regarding spending being proportional to revenue.
United can offer Milner much more stability than City too, with a manager firmly rooted in his place and a team that is not being repeatedly chopped and changed.
However, once again Milner would not be guaranteed a first team spot.
United have arguably the greatest passer in the league in Paul Scholes, as well as the bulldog-like Darren Fletcher, currently entrenched as their first choice midfielders, and behind them is vast array of talent including the energetic Anderson, the occasionally brilliant Carrick and the re-born Owen Hargreaves.
On the wings, Milner would face stiff competition from Valencia and Nani, who have been two of United's best players this season, as well as Park, Giggs, and the promising Obertan.
But more to the point, it would be a bad idea for Milner to go anywhere.
In Martin O' Neill, he has a brilliant manager who has essentially turned him into the player he is. Neither Fergie nor Mancini would know how to get the best out of Milner straight away, and in any case, there are few brave enough to predict that Mancini will remain where he is much longer.
He has a devoted fan base behind him; Villa fans understandably love him for his tireless performances and flashes of footballing genius.
And he has a team that he knows how to play with, which is, as Dimitar Berbatov and Robinho discovered after their big moves, a vital factor in success.
So will James Milner move?
The answer is hopefully not—it just wouldn't be a good idea.
But if he does move, it is certainly hard to see him anywhere other than Old Trafford.