Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Milner in, Ireland out

The most dramatic swap deal since Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o (no, seriously) has finally gone through: as of this evening James Milner is a Manchester City player. As excited as I am, what really occupies my thoughts this evening is that Stephen Ireland is no longer one of our own. But more of that later.

Milner joins after one of the more boring transfer sagas of the last few years. It's been going on since before the World Cup, and has had a little bit too much in common with Joleon Lescott last summer. It's the pursuit of a fashionable English player, out of the desperate grip of a rival club. Like Lescott, it comes at the end of a long summer of transfers and so have a slight taste of gluttony about it, something exacerbated by a fee that is ludicrous even in the context of the summer just gone. And then there is the recognition that it longer necessarily improves the first team, instead facilitating the departure of a club favourite to Aston Villa.

But I don't feel particularly disappointed with the arrival of Milner. I never do. Transfers are always exhilarating, even if the hit isn't quite as intoxicating as for David Silva or Mario Balotelli. And I increasingly think Milner will be a crucial addition. A lot of our hopes for the season presume the signings of David Silva and Yaya Touré bed in well. But what if they don't? Milner can replace Yaya's box to box muscularity and while he's not quite David Silva he is an intelligent and energetic wide player. Yes, Mark Hughes fetishised Premier League experience but that doesn't mean that it's valueless. And Milner has played 242 games in the EPL already. He'll always be ready.

And he has missed two Premier League games in the last two seasons, a remarkable record for a midfielder as energetic as he is. Just wait until January and February when, all being well, we will be competing on four fronts. Playing twice a week, every week, in the bitter cold might not be to the preference of all of our midfielders. And this isn't just a lazy point about nationality either: remember just how poor Gareth Barry was last winter. When we go to Milner's old homes: St. James' Park on Boxing Day, Villa Park on 22 January, Milner is the one of our midfielders I most want there. To say nothing of the prospect of - to pluck a stadium at random - Elland Road in the FA Cup Third Round.

So I don't necessarily expect an instant impact from Milner. I can't predict the team for tomorrow night, nor for Liverpool or any other game soon. So I can't say which games he'll play and in which roles. Suffice to say that I'm confident we'll find some serious work for him to get into, and that he will reward the investment as the season goes on.

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