Versatile Milner may be right for the England left

Click to follow

While Wayne Rooney was transforming himself from prospect to fully-fledged superstar at Euro 2004, another highly-rated English teenager was also fretting over where he would be playing his club football come August.

James Milner, who many have tipped to have just as big an impact on the international side as Rooney, was the last of Leeds United's crown jewels to be sold off. He was also the most reluctant. While Alan Smith's controversial move to Manchester United was completed within days of the end of last season, as was Paul Robinson's to Tottenham, Milner expected and wanted to stay, despite relegation.

He even turned down a move to Spurs because of the distance between London and his family home in Yorkshire. But, when Newcastle United and Sir Bobby Robson called, the 18-year-old could no longer resist the temptation to stay in the Premiership, and neither could Leeds resist the money.

Milner could advance his career at a club who already have more young British players in the first-team squad than any other top Premiership side, could work with one of English football's most respected managers and could also remain close to his roots.

"I had said all along that I didn't want to leave Leeds, but the Newcastle opportunity was too good to turn down," said the level-headed teenager, who has now been joined at St James' Park by Dutch international Patrick Kluivert. "There is all the usual stuff. It's a massive club with a massive fan-base, but there are already a large number of young British players here and that was very attractive. I'm still young and I want to learn and develop. Sir Bobby and Newcastle will help me do that.

"It was hard leaving Leeds, the club I'd been at since I was a small boy, but I've settled in very quickly and I'm excited about the future because I'm playing in a team who will be challenging at the top of the Premiership." Milner has joined the likes of Jermaine Jenas, 21, Craig Bellamy, 25, Kieron Dyer, 25, Shola Ameobi, 23, Darren Ambrose, 20, Titus Bramble, 24, and Jonathan Woodgate, 24.

Newcastle, it seems, are not trying to compete with Arsenal, Chelsea and the two historical powerhouses, Liverpool and Manchester United, for the big international stars. They accept that, for the time being at least, the big four hold sway in this area, with Kluivert's arrival facilitated by the fact Barcelona did not demand a fee and because none of the above were interested in signing him.

Instead, Newcastle have gone for exciting prospects, pouncing before their star has fully risen and hoping they realise their full potential in the North-east. "Young players get their chance at Newcastle," said Milner. "Other clubs just seem to buy in expensive foreigners, but Newcastle are still one of the clubs capable of winning something. The idea is also to put a team together who will get even better in the future."

Milner's first appearances in a Newcastle shirt have come as a half-time replacement for Laurent Robert on the left wing. While Milner is right-footed, he is also comfortable with his left, a quality sadly lacking in so many so-called top English players.

It is his versatility which Milner hopes will help him play regularly for Newcastle this season and, eventually, for England as well. He explained: "My aim has got to be to play as much first-team football as possible, but there is a lot of competition for places.

"People have talked about England, and being able to play on the left could help me. But, to be honest, I'm not thinking too much about that at the moment because I'm trying to get into my club side first.

"I think being able to play in a variety of positions is a help rather than a hindrance. Some people think you're better to have a specialist position, but I think being versatile will help me get more first-team experience.

"I'm happy playing anywhere attacking. At Leeds I started on the right, but I went over to the left and played more than 30 games. When you look at the players at Newcastle I don't want to be just going up against one of them for one position.

"But, yes, I'm fine playing on the left, and if that's where the manager wants me to play then I will do so happily." Sven Goran Eriksson, as well as an ever-expectant Toon Army, will be watching his progress closely.

Comments