James Milner, he of the square jaw and slightly hunched run, is the epitome of the workhorse-like utility man. He has quietly amassed more than 50 caps for England, and a ten-year career in the top flight, without ever really seeing his spark catch light.
A player of strong and versatile technical skills, and a workrate that makes up for a lack of startling pace of surprising skill, he has an admirer in his current manager Manuel Pellegrini – but Milner himself appears to be tiring of the journeyman utility role.
Milner’s career to date has been one of hired hand, a couple of years each at Newcastle and Aston Villa, following spells as a youngster at Leeds United and Swindon, before his current five year stay at Manchester City. In each case, he has failed to hold down a permanent role, shuffling across the midfield and filling in at full back as required- the curse of a man of his all-round ability.
But his City contract is up at the end of the season, and talks negotiating a renewal have repeatedly stalled; the sticking point isn’t money, but playing time, with Milner looking for assurances he will get the appearances he feels he deserves.
Pellegrini has said he wants Milner to stay, but with a squad the size of City’s, and one so overflowing with capable attacking players, assurances are difficult to come by.
So, where might Milner’s talents find a home?
Talk of a move overseas has gathered pace since the turn of the year, with initial talks held with Internationale, AC Milan and AS Roma – where former England teammate Ashley Cole is now plying his trade. Two Spanish clubs have also apparently shown interest.
Much of this talk will be a highly paid agent doing what they are highly paid for – a player in demand earns more and commands a higher signing-on fee. A bigger pie to take a slice of.
Closer to home, Liverpool have made positive noises about the prospect of signing young James, but less positive noises about his wages, suggesting they need to come down from their current level within touching distance of £100,000 a week.
At 29, Milner is right to be weighing up his options. He is at the peak of his earning power, and has probably one long-term contract left in him. The right balance of regular football and being in the quality of team you deserve is a difficult one to strike.
Here Milner would benefit from looking to his sometime England and Newcastle teammate, and fellow midfield workhorse, Scott Parker.
Parker’s career mirrors Milner’s – not just in the time they spent at Newcastle United – but both have struggled to find a place they can settle. Milner’s five years at City have been good to him in terms of success – two league titles, an FA cup and a league cup – but his on the field contribution has been sporadic. Prior to that, he flitted around.
Parker was the shining light in the Charlton Athletic team of the mid-2000s, leaving in the 2003-04 season as the team finished seventh in the Premier League. Parker took the big club, big money move and headed across London to Chelsea. He played 15 times, mostly as part of Chelsea’s league cup team. Not even enough appearances for a league winners medal in 2005. And off he trotted to Newcastle. Two years there, one as captain, then West Ham. Four years, then Spurs. Two years, then Fulham. Contract renewals not a big problem for Scotty, he’s rarely been around long enough to need one.
Finding a home in football for the less flashy talents is a difficult. Parker’s Chelsea mis-step came early in his career – he won the PFA Young Player of the Year award in the same season he moved – and at 34, he is likely to see out his career at Craven Cottage.
Incidentally, Milner won that same PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2010, shortly before joining Manchester City. He’ll now be looking to avoid a continuation his mirror of Parker’s struggle, although has had a better time of it at City than Parker did at Chelsea.
Those two clubs, and these two players, point to the dangers of big clubs stockpiling talent. Manchester City and Chelsea are by no means the only offenders, but they certainly have squads which reflect the resources they have to throw around. Spare a thought for poor Scott Sinclair, who has been stockpiled by both teams – between 2005-2010, he had more loan clubs than he had first team appearances for Chelsea.
But the tide may be turning, Financial Fair Play and players realising there’s more to it all than that slightly larger pay-cheque are making it harder to put together a massive squad.
Milner might stay at City, or he might go. Fingers crossed for him he finds his place.
Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.