Capital One Cup Final: Manchester City v Sunderland - Is teetotal James Milner boring or a model professional?


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The Independent Football

Almost directly above James Milner’s head are two bottles of champagne, and someone asks him that if Manchester City win the League Cup whether just for a moment he might be tempted to let alcohol pass his lips.

“I think if there was any time I would have done it, it would have been after we won the league against QPR,” he said with a smile. “It was a decision I made when I was young. I just thought that if there is something that can be done to improve myself – like diet, not drinking, a bit of extra gym work – then I’ll do it. It’s a short career and, when I look back on it, I want to have won everything I possibly could.”

Milner is the subject of a parody Twitter account called Boring James Milner which is based on the premise that the midfielder lives in a beige, suburban world – sample tweet: “I just got the tin opener out of the drawer to open a tin of beans but the tin had a ring-pull on it. I didn’t need the tin opener after all.” It has 195,000 followers which places it somewhere between Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg’s Twitter accounts.

Were he born in Lisbon or Las Palmas rather than Leeds, the talk would be of Milner’s supreme professionalism. When Liverpool returned from Istanbul after their jaw-dropping Champions League triumph against Milan, bottles of champagne were passed around the plane. When Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso were given a glass, each reacted as if they had been handed a urine sample to taste. Across the aisle, strapped into one of the seats in the absurdly small Boeing 737 the club had chartered, was the European Cup.

Milner, 28, who is rather better company than certain other footballers we could mention, has been learning Spanish, not because he sees himself in Madrid but because it is increasingly the language of the club.

Monday was spent at Royal Birkdale, playing golf with Adam Johnson. They drew one apiece. Milner was also discussing this afternoon’s League Cup final against Johnson’s Sunderland, which should be the most one-sided Wembley final since the last time Manchester City played there, on the romantic, rain-soaked afternoon that Wigan upset every prediction.

“You cannot take anything away from Wigan,” said Milner. “They played very well; we got it wrong tactically and didn’t perform. It still hurts because these chances of winning medals don’t come around often. You think of the hours you put in during training throughout your life and you think that if you win this one, it’s a trophy; it’s there forever”

Midfielder Milner, though a regular in the England squad, may not start against Sunderland and were he back at a Newcastle or an Aston Villa – big clubs but not ones about to write cheques for £30m – his position would be central, guaranteed. He would be an obvious captain.

“That’s the big question isn’t it?” pondered Milner. “Are you better off at Manchester City not quite playing every week but still in four trophies, playing in Champions League nights and challenging for the title every year? Or do you go to a team who are not as big but where you are the star man?

“But when you look back at your career do you want to say: ‘I played 750 games and didn’t win very much’ or ‘I played 600 games and won this and that?”