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James Lawton: James Milner's humble style on the money in Manchester City's command performance for Sheikh Mansour


James Milner

James Milner

James Milner

It was completely reasonable that Sheikh Mansour, who owned everything in sight except for disconsolate Liverpool, received a greeting so rapturous he might also have financed the moon and the stars before his first visit here last night.

He certainly picked the moment which supplied the first solid evidence that City might indeed have some potential to put a little puppy flesh on the bones of outrageous ambition.

The big question, now, is how quickly the sheikh returns to the scene of an investment that is promising to be the biggest, the most open-ended and the most unquestioning in the history of football.

It might be good for everyone, and not least the blood pressure of the City chief executive, Garry Cook – coach Roberto Mancini, predictably enough, handled the public ceremonials somewhat more suavely – if he lets the desert winds blow for quite a bit longer before he makes his next tour of inspection.

This is because, if City are a work in progress, it has to be said that the foundation stones have scarcely been laid.

Yet no doubt this was this was the most encouraging chapter so far in a story that it supposed to rewrite all known football logic. It was certainly hugely to the welcoming committee's relief that, with the sheikh scarcely in the building, the team that struggled so badly at White Hart Lane on the opening day of the season had plainly found a little more confidence in its ability to justify transfer spending now touching £350m.

An important contribution to this gift after 12 minutes came from a relatively modest £26m share of that mammoth outlay. Gareth Berry scored the goal and Adam Johnson set it in motion, but it was the new man James Milner who supplied the vital momentum when bursting to the goal-line and playing back a perfect cross into the path of his old Villa team-mate.

Milner is perhaps not the player the sheikh had in mind when he started signing the bigger cheques. He is essentially a superior yeoman, strong, committed but maybe not calculated to set the pulse racing too wildly – not like the controversial Mario Balotelli, who sat out this one with the promise that, soon enough, he will be adding to the entertainment levels. In meantime, Milner is probably a lot better equipped to supply the kind of energy and heart out of which City must build if they are indeed to make it through to the most elite company.

For the moment, it is maybe enough, that the sheikh, not to mention the fans, have been appeased by a sharp move away from the indecision that so plagued the opening performance at Tottenham. City didn't light up the rainy night sky but they were able to subdue, with increasing ease, the forlorn challenge of Liverpool.

Here was the cruel edge of a night which set the hopes of City racing so optimistically. City adore their Middle Eastern patron, Liverpool revile the Americans who promised the kind of future that may have just arrived at the other end of the old East Lancashire Road.

Liverpool, with Javier Mascherano apparently making it plain that he no longer had any stomach for a fight against unequal odds, were denuded and dispirited long before Micah Richards and Carlos Tevez add the second-half killing strokes. There were flashes from Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, but how long will they tolerate the dwindling horizons as Liverpool flail in pursuit of the kind of owner who arrives like some fabulous emperor of the desert, then quietly slips away?

It is Liverpool's fanstasy, now, just as it might yet turn out to be for City if the gap between vast investment and classic football development is not closed some time soon enough.

For the moment, though, City can afford to believe that they have at least the basis of a serious challenge for the uplands of the European game. Milner played with hard ambition and no little talent last night. He put some heart into the most perilous adventure that football has ever seen. He sent the sheikh home with a sense that maybe his money might be doing more than blowing in the desert wind.

The Sheikh in brief

Full name Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan

Born 20 November 1970

Family A member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, he is the half-brother to the current president of the United Arab Emirates. He has two wives, two sons and a daughter.

Politics Deputy Prime Minister of UAE.

Business Involved in various oil ventures and is the chairman of the Emirates Horse Racing Authority. His estimated family fortune stands at £560bn, and he is chairman of the Al-Jazira sports club and owner of Manchester City.

Education Bachelor's degree in International Relations.

Belfast Telegraph