James Milner has been preparing for the humidity in Manaus at the World Cup finals with bike sessions in a heated chamber and twice-daily squad training, but yesterday he took time out to address the pressing issue: what does he think about his Twitter alter-ego @BoringMilner?
The 28-year-old is widely regarded as one of the most dedicated professionals in the elite game. A former child prodigy who could have played professional cricket, he made his debut for Leeds United at the age of 16. He was Yorkshire schoolboys’ cross-country champion, has never drunk alcohol and is a stranger to the celebrity pages, adhering to a strict creed of ultra-professionalism.
The flipside of this has been a growing reputation for being a little dull, not to mention one-dimensional - despite the best GCSE results of any top-level English footballer in history. The @BoringMilner parody account has played up to this image perfectly with more than 243,000 followers who delight in the banality of its imagined Milner tweets.
Recent examples include: “Great victory tonight. Hopefully, if I don't get home too late I'm going to pull the fridge out and give the back of it a damn good clean.” And: “When I woke up this morning I had forgot it was the last game of the season today but after about 5 minutes or so I remembered again.”
The tweet to mark his inclusion in the England squad attracted more than 5,000 retweets. “Roy rang me to say I'm in the England squad. I said Me? He said Yes. I said In the Squad? He said Yes. I said For the World Cup? He said Yes.”
A fairly intense press conference subject, even Milner permitted himself a smile when he was asked to consider the impact of @BoringMilner. He said: “It's not doing badly, whoever it is! My foundation has [only] 15,000 followers on its Twitter feed [@JM7Foundation]. It [@BoringMilner] is good fun. I've read a few of them, and some of them are very funny. My mates don't mention it, no. I'd like the James Milner Foundation to have as many followers as that.”
Did he have an idea who it might be? “We went through this [at Manchester City] wondering who it was. There were a few tweets about Asda so I was asking the masseurs where they shopped.”
Did Milner himself shop in Asda? “I don't. I don't think it's someone at the club. Who knows? It's good fun. I've never got close enough to finding out who it was. I thought I had but I realised they [the person he suspected] didn't have enough banter.”
As well as the persona that has been somewhat imposed upon him, Milner has also – unfairly he argues – been pigeon-holed as a defensive midfielder. His inclusion against Italy on 14 June might divide opinion but the player himself says that the suggestion he is just a player capable of stopping the opposition is unwarranted.
“Look at the number of goals I've created in the Premier League in my career. I'm sure I'd be quite high up in that. If you can do that, create goals, but also do a job for the team defensively as well ... if I was lazy but had more energy [conserved] to go forward, what would the perception be then?
“You can look at every game, some where I've been a defensive players and others where I've had an impact. I contribute in many different ways to the team. I've played a hell of a lot of games in my career, and you can stake any argument on the stats.”
As for the teetotalism, that is unlikely to change, except in the event of a life-changing moment next month. “It's not like I'm against alcohol. It's just a decision I made and, if you've never had it, you don't miss it. I've been drenched in champagne a few times over my career. I might have a drink if England win the World Cup. That's one moment where I might.”