The England midfielder James Milner has given the clearest hint yet that he is ready to join Manchester City, paving the way for the club to prepare what is expected to be a bigger second offer for the Aston Villa player after their initial bid of £20m was rejected.
Asked whether he would be at Villa next season, where he still has two years left on his existing contract, Milner said "I don't know". He added: "I've worked as hard as I can and concentrated on club football while the season has been on. Now it has finished I'm with England and that's the only thing I am concentrating on."
Milner said that a new contract was to be discussed at Villa after the World Cup finals, although City's pursuit looks like it will be one of those transfer sagas that drags on for most of the summer. When City signed Gareth Barry last summer from Villa it was a deal that was done in the matter of a few days – but prising Milner away looks like a much taller order.
Speaking on Wednesday at England's training camp in Austria on the day that City's first bid was rejected, Milner, 24, said: "I am in football to win trophies. That is my No 1 aim and whether that's for club or country, you hopefully want to do it. I want to finish my career, go into my trophy room and see medals – winners' medals. I want to be as successful as I possibly can and we came close twice this season at Villa."
Asked whether he would like his future resolved before England leave for the World Cup on 1 June, Milner said: "Not really. I am just concentrating on England. That's the only thing I am here to do. When we finished the season at Aston Villa, we said we would discuss it after the World Cup and that's as far as I am."
City are expected to put an improved bid into Villa before England depart for South Africa on 1 June. The transfer might just come down to whether, should he want to leave, Milner, who is represented by the agency division of the Professional Footballers' Association, is prepared to force his way out of Villa in much the same fashion as Joleon Lescott did with Everton last summer.
Fabio Capello has made it clear he does not want any distractions around his players at the World Cup and will not tolerate them breaking off from preparations to negotiate transfers.
Switched into the centre of midfield, Milner said, in Barry's absence for England, he could play the holding role if asked. "Last summer I spoke to Martin O'Neill and we talked about the possibility of [playing in central midfield]," Milner said. "He thought I could do the job and I'd said I love to play in there and with Stewart Downing signing as well, it happened. I think it suits my game. I like to get involved more and use my energy to get up and down the pitch and, hopefully, contribute going forward and defending-wise.
"As a Leeds fan I watched David Batty as a kid and he was one of the best at it. He had great awareness, always kept the ball moving, one or two touches, got the team playing when it was going through a tough patch in the game and protected the back four.
"I did have his shirt. I had a few Leeds shirts when I was a kid, Tony Yeboah, Lucas Radebe, Alan Smith."
He is only 24 but it feels like Milner, who made his senior debut at Leeds United aged 16, has been around for much longer. He had four seasons at Newcastle after he left Leeds in 2004, most of the second spent on loan at Villa. When he signed permanently for Villa two years ago it took him a few months to get into the first team but he bloomed last season and this is now his time.
"As for the World Cup, everyone wants to be in the 23 [-man final squad] and the only way you can do that is by performing in the games and at training every day. You are being watched all the time, how you are in the hotel, and around the hotel, and if you are a good traveller because you are going to be away a long time. These little things add up and everyone will give it their best. The training is going to be top tempo."
Like the rest of the squad, Milner is required to wear an oxygen mask for five-minute intervals one hour in every day to prepare them for the effects of playing at altitude during the World Cup. It is a duty that the players are obliged to carry out alone in their rooms as part of the long, often tedious, build up to a World Cup finals which began this week in a small Austrian town two hours from Graz.
Milner is still young enough to be uncomfortable discussing his future, the kind of topic that he realises could get him in trouble. He is more sure-footed talking about his background, in particular his love of cricket – which he played for Yorkshire at schoolboy level – and the omens that the recent Twenty20 success might have for this summer. "I am a big cricket fan and I would love to play in the summer," he said. "I have been tempted a few times but if I break a toe from being on the end of yorker I don't think Martin O'Neill will be too happy. I go back to the cricket club to watch all my mates play and I am pretty envious of them. But I'm lucky enough to be doing something I love doing the rest of the year.
"I watched the Twenty20 World Cup and I was delighted to see them win it. I thought they deserved it. They played very well. It is a good start for English sport in the summer and it would be nice if there were two Worlds Cups in the trophy cabinet by the end of the summer."
He names Paul Gascoigne as his favourite England player from the past – "for the way he played the game and the sort of character he was" – but Milner is far too sensible to be compared to the man who dominated England's World Cup of 20 years ago. He is a different breed of English footballer, and much better equipped to cope with the pressures of fame – although as far as City are concerned he has a big decision to make this summer.
Milner's middle way
James Milner's move to central midfield last season, following Gareth Barry's departure to Manchester City, precipitated the best form of his career.
During his final season at Newcastle (2007/08), Milner scored just three goals in 28 games, making three assists. Moving to Aston Villa in August 2008, he improved to score seven goals and nine assists, while last season he again bettered his tally, scoring 12 and making 15 assists in 49 matches.
Won by Milner – all under Fabio Capello and all but one coming as a substitute