James Milner offers a large contrast to the current hyperbole that surrounds England's young World Cup contingent, perhaps more so than any other member of the current squad.
The Manchester City midfielder boasts a trophy record of two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and a League Cup as well as earning 46 senior international caps. Milner also holds the record for England Under-21 appearances with the same number yet individual accolades are relatively sparse, perhaps due to his uncomplicated and workmanlike demeanour, reports the Evening Standard.
His harshest critics argue that it is those exact traits make him, frankly, dull. Those who pay testament to his quiet efficiency and speciality in the unglamorous during matches are often countered by those who deem his contribution anonymous and uninspiring.
A parody Twitter account, ‘Boring James Milner’, has more than 240,000 followers compared to the relatively modest 15,000 signed up to his own account, created for charity purposes, and there were a smattering of boos to greet his introduction as second-half substitute during Friday’s 3-0 victory over Peru.
Milner doesn’t drink, is very rarely embroiled in controversy and always willing to sacrifice individual pursuits for the greater good. In many senses, he is a manager’s dream and yet he is often castigated left, right and centre – wherever he plays.
The widespread clamour to see Roy Hodgson throw his inexperienced youngsters into action will be sated here in Miami tomorrow with Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw among those expected to feature against Honduras.
Milner has played everywhere across the midfield for England during his international career yet Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere are now vying for a central berth alongside captain Steven Gerrard, while Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana are among those pushing hard to feature on the flanks when England begin their World Cup Group D campaign against Italy on June 14 in Manaus.
Sometimes being a utility man can count against a player, especially when compared to the untapped potential of younger alternatives, but Milner insists he welcomes Hodgson’s decision to include the next generation of England hopefuls.
“I think it is exactly what it is needed – you want competition all over the squad and we definitely have that,” he told the Evening Standard. “We have got players who can play in different roles and in different ways.
“You want that competition and it is an exciting young squad but we have a good mix of senior players as well and I think there are five or six or us who were at the last World Cup so anything we can do to help the young players or anything I can to help as well, that’s a big role that we have to make those players feel as comfortable as they can be going into a World Cup.”
Milner is also expected to feature at the Sun Life Stadium tomorrow in what will be his 20 appearance under Hodgson, who remains a firm admirer regardless of external pressures to dispense with his services.
He is not the type of character to take anything forgranted and it is perhaps no surprise that he rarely assumed he would be an automatic selection for the 23-man squad despite featuring in the last two tournaments under Hodgson and his predecessor, Fabio Capello.
“You get asked about the World Cup so many times during the season and the thing is the form that gets you there is playing well for the club,” he said. “That’s the only thing during the season that I was concentrating on, doing well for the club and ultimately that is what gets you in the England squad.”
Milner’s season could hardly have ended better, with City pipping Liverpool in the final strides to win the League title by two points.
He featured in City’s final five matches – starting three of them – in which Manuel Pellegrini’s side took maximum points to snatch the trophy and although there are five Liverpool players in the squad – plus Jon Flanagan, who has travelled to the United States despite failing to make the final 23-man squad, Milner insists he and City team-mate Joe Hart are not compelled to keep the bragging rights quiet.
“No, not really,” he said. “But I think the same way that it has gone for us and we are concentrating on the World Cup, it is the same for them as well.”