Okay, before we start I can already see the look of disbelief in your face, you’re ready to rip this article to shreds before you’ve even read it.
You’re fully aware of the point I’m about to try and make and every instinct within you is poised to shoot it down. James Milner, England’s weak spot, the slow cumbersome bloke with the poor first touch and haphazard passing. The one who makes you either sigh, shake your head or scream at the television. Surely a Manchester United fan, isn’t about to make a case that Milner is far from the useless bastard we’ve all made him out to be? Well forgive me but I am going to defend him- the clue was in the title.
First of all, I’ll admit, I’ve been one of Milner’s strongest critics, for the player ratings versus Sweden I gave him a five, the second joint lowest rating of the England side. During and after the France game, I tweeted how poor he’d been and how he’d looked out of his depth. Before the Ukraine game I cried out to anyone that would listen, that Theo Walcott had to start. So why after a fairly uninspiring display by Milner in the final group game do I suddenly feel the need to make a case for the City man retaining his place?
Well allow me to elucidate, first of all lets look at some stats- yes I know this isn’t an article about Michael Carrick but lets do it anyway. In the final third Milner has attempted 37 passes 30 of which have found their target giving him an 81% success rate. Overall the number is 61 out of 77 for a 79% pass success rate. Now I can already hear you saying “77 passes in three games is pretty shocking” and to be completely honest it almost is. Let’s not forget though that first of all it’s more like two and a bit games as Milner has been subbed twice missing over one half of football, secondly Ashley Young, who no one has really called for to be dropped- well apart from the ABU mob, has made less passes both overall and in the final third, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has managed a mere 17 in just under 90 minutes worth of football. The point is none of the wide men have shone in the passing stakes, mainly due to the fact England haven’t had that much possession.
When it comes to tackling Milner’s hardly set the world alight, making only six tackles but in his defence that’s actually more than the likes of Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole and unlike them all of the midfielder’s have been successful, naturally giving him a 100% success rate- the highest of any England player.
Now I know stats and percentages don’t detract from what you witness on the pitch and at times Milner has looked woeful, but let’s ask ourselves an honest question “why is he preferred to Walcott?” The answer is simple, he protects Glen Johnson more than Walcott would and the Arsenal man is better as an impact sub, a fact proven by his stunning performance against Sweden.
All of a sudden people assume that a player booed by his own fans at times last season and one who’s been roundly criticised for poor decision making is now the answer to all our right wing problems, well despite my championing of him to start against Ukraine, I’m beginning to see the logic in not starting Walcott.
Not even the most ardent Milner fan would claim he’s got any ‘impact’ potential so he’d be almost useless as a sub, while young Theo is the sort of player a full back like Federico Balzaretti who’s the wrong side of 30 would dread see coming on in the latter stages of a game.
Part of the reason I’ve decided to defend Milner is when I think back to United player’s who’ve been criticised in the past for not being good enough, yet have done an important job for the side. When I first started attending games at Old Trafford, with my mates, rather than my dad, it was Brian McClair everyone seemed to think should be dropped in favour of an ageing Bryan Robson. Years later no one could understand what Jesper Blomqvist was doing getting a game, yet he played 25 league games in United’s treble winning season, not to mention a place in the starting XI in the Champions League final at the Nou Camp. More recently players such as Quinton Fortune, Phil Neville- let’s not pretend he wasn’t- Michael Carrick and even Danny Welbeck- I was chastised on twitter for claiming he should start ahead of Chicharito early last season- have been labelled ‘not good enough’ by many Reds. Yet every single one of those players has done the job asked of them and in many respects that’s exactly what Milner is doing for England.
I realise he may not be the quickest most skilful winger on the planet, in fact he’s not even the most skilful English winger on City’s books, but he’s become an important part of an England team that’s finally finding some success.
As the old saying goes ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’ and while the name Milner on the teamsheet against Italy may not inspire us, I’m beginning to think it could just be what’s needed for the type of game Hodgson’s England like to play.
Have I finally truly lost it or is Milner an important cog in the England machine? Feel free to comment, suggest or abuse below:
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