Despite starting only 12 Premier League matches last year, James Milner has decided to remain at Manchester City and fight for his place.
It was that bit-part role that gave the 28-year-old midfielder second-thoughts when the club reportedly were willing to present him with a new four-year deal at the close of the 2013/14 season. Milner stunningly turned down those talks, preferring to remain at City for the remaining 12 months of his contract and see whether he can break into the Starting XI.
A difficult decision, no doubt, to leave a four-year deal with City on the table.
But Milner is a footballers’ footballer. A knuckle-down, never say die midfielder known for incredible fitness, work-rate and a rock-solid mentality. If he fails to break into the squad, life will go on elsewhere in the Premier League where multiple clubs, including Arsenal and Liverpool, have noted their interest.
But the reason why his story is so interesting, nay, compelling, is not because Milner has the fortitude to roll the dice with one of the most competitive squads in the world but because his decision is purely based on love of the game. And in a world of money-trumps-all professional football, that’s saying something.
When City offered Milner the most recent contract reports claimed the player and his representatives didn’t even talk numbers. Money didn’t matter to Milner. The only thing that mattered was football — and whether or not he’d be playing enough of it.
The answer to that predicament will emerge over the next six months when Milner does everything in his power to prove to Manuel Pellegrini that he deserves proper burn. To do that, he’ll have to prove himself more vital than Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, and, in some instances, David Silva. A tall order, no doubt, but one that deserves the appreciation of Premier League fans, regardless of who they support.