By Sean Hartnett
In recent seasons, Manchester City have become a club that views its players simply as disposable commodities. Their plan is to constantly reshape their squad each summer, even replacing well-performing players with more expensive alternatives.
City’s mega-rich owners simply do not care about taking on large losses when selling off their players and paying inflated transfer fees for replacements. While the financial side may not worry their owners, a culture of “perform now or you’ll be axed next summer” isn’t a healthy way of running a top-level football club.
Every player brought in must impress immediately or face the possibility of being relegated to the bench or the likelihood of being sold in the next transfer window. Even someone like Craig Bellamy found himself out of City plans despite quickly endearing himself at Eastlands and his willingness to accept a diminished role.
Bellamy, whom most considered their best player of the past season was pushed out the door as the Citizens signed multiple star players that forced his departure with the newly implemented 25-man squad rule. Bellamy himself described the state of football as “ruthless” as clubs show little loyalty in their pursuit of big-name signings.
Wayne Bridge, Roque Santa Cruz and even the very productive Shay Given and Emmanuel Adebayor could end up on the City chopping block. None of which were signed earlier than January 2009 yet it is a strong possibility that all four will leave Eastlands by the close of the summer transfer window.
Enter James Milner (photo), who at 24 is on the opposite side of the coin as he’s entering what should be the most productive years of his career. His star has risen dramatically since being moved to a central role at Aston Villa and putting in performances that earned his place in the PFA Team of the Year. Milner won the PFA’s Best Young Player award and became an important piece in the English national team setup.
Even as a Leeds youngster, Milner gave the impression that he was going to make it big one day. Now surrounded by talent at Man City, he could show he’s capable of taking his potential a step further by cementing his place as one of the elite midfielders in Europe and proving that he is a staying power.
Milner could have done so during the World Cup, but suffered through illness at the start of the tournament which allowed Aaron Lennon to take some of his playing time in South Africa. England’s shameful exit at the hands of Germany overshadowed his strong overall performances but didn’t sour City’s desperation to acquire his services.
Whether Roberto Mancini decides to use him centrally as Martin O’Neill did at Villa or on the wings as he does for England, he is equally talented in either role. Milner possesses both the all-around ability to be the main man in the middle and the pace, crossing skill and trickery to be a fantastic wing-man.
Robinho famously failed to live up to his excessive £32.5m price tag at City but the Brazilian looked disinterested and unwilling to show the desire needed to be a success in the English game. Milner shares the sort of all-effort mentality of Carlos Tévez who quickly became a vital member of the Citizens and fan favorite amongst Man City supporters.
Many players have come and gone since the Abu Dhabi United Group took over the club in September 2008. Tévez has been a rare exception who has shown that he will be a big part of City’s long-term plans. Milner looks set to join him as a highly-priced signing who has what it takes to be heavily counted by the club for the long haul.