I don’t know if I’ll be at Aston Villa next season, says James Milner
James Milner will have a lot of time to contemplate his future this week in England's Austrian training camp and with Manchester City raising the pressure on Aston Villa with a £20m bid for the midfielder, he has given the clearest hint yet that he is ready to move.
On the day that the richest club in the Premier League once again parked their tanks on Villa's lawn, Milner would not say outright that his future is at Villa.
It is a tricky situation for a 24-year-old who has become one of English football's most sought-after properties but such is life when a young footballer finds himself so much in demand.
Asked whether he would be at Villa next season, where he still has two years left on his existing contract, Milner said “I don't know”.
He added: “I've worked as hard as I can and concentrated on club football while the season has been on. Now it has finished I'm with England and that's the only thing I am concentrating on.”
Milner said that a new contract was to be discussed at Villa after the World Cup, although City's pursuit looks like it will be one of those transfer sagas that drags on for most of the summer.
When City signed Gareth Barry last summer from Villa it was a deal that was done in the matter of a few days — but prising Milner away looks like a much taller order.
You can hardly blame Martin O'Neill who cannot be expected to build a competitive team when his best players are picked off every summer by City.
The transfer might just come down to whether, should he want to leave, Milner is prepared to force his way out of Villa in much the same fashion as Joleon Lescott did with Everton last summer. It has the potential to get nasty.
Switched into the centre of midfield, Milner said, in Barry's absence, he could play the holding role if asked. “Last summer I spoke to Martin O'Neill and we talked about the possibility of [playing in central midfield],” Milner said.
“He thought I could do the job and I'd said I love to play in there and with Stewart Downing signing as well, it happened. I think it suits my game. I like to get involved more and use my energy to get up and down the pitch and hopefully contribute going forward and defending-wise.
“As a Leeds fan I watched David Batty as a kid and he was one of the best at it. He had great awareness, always kept the ball moving, one or two touches, got the team playing when it was going through a tough patch in the game and protected the back four.
“I did have his shirt. I had a few Leeds shirts when I was a kid, Tony Yeboah, Lucas Radebe, Alan Smith.”
He is only 24 but it feels like Milner, who made his senior debut at Leeds United aged 16, has been around for much longer.
He had four seasons at Newcastle after he left Leeds in 2004, most of the second spent on loan at Villa. When he signed permanently for Villa two years ago it took him a few months to get into the first team but he bloomed last season and this is now his time.
“I am in football to win trophies,” he said. “That is my No 1 aim and whether that's for club or country, you hopefully want to do it. I want to finish my career, go into my trophy room and see medals and winners' medals. I want to be as successful as I possibly can and we came close twice this season at Villa.
“As for the World Cup, everyone wants to be in the 23 [man final squad] and the only way you can do that is by performing in the games and at training every day. You are being watched all the time, how you are in the hotel, and around the hotel, and if you are a good traveller because you are going to be a way a long time. These little things add up and everyone will give it their best. The training is going to be top tempo.”
Like the rest of the squad, Milner is required to wear an oxygen mask for five minute intervals one hour in every day to prepare them for the effects of playing at altitude during the World Cup. It is a duty that the players are obliged to carry out alone in their rooms as part of the long, often tedious, build up to a World Cup finals which began this week in a small Austrian town two hours from Graz.