Why Everyone Needs to Stop Ignoring James Milner

12/02/2015 17:28 GMT | Updated 14/04/2015 10:59 BST

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Stuart Pearce (depending on how you look at it). A few weeks earlier, the recently-dismissed Nottingham Forest boss had agreed to take the City Ground post and was reflecting on his managerial career so far.

Most of the talk centred around his time in charge of the England Under-21 side and he provided contrasting, often no-holds-barred, views on those who'd left their mark on him, both positively and negatively, while in the Three Lions hot seat.

One player to graduate with first class honours was James Milner, even if his credentials as a star student weren't immediately evident. "I never thought Milly would get one senior cap for his country," Pearce said. "But now he'll end up with 80-plus."

Disproving others' low opinions of him has been a regular feature in Milner's career to date, helping him to where he is now - a soon-to-be out-of-contract midfielder, playing for the current champions of England, with a host of probable admirers.

Manchester City want to keep him, allegedly, but despite talks over a new deal taking place, nothing has yet been signed. Key players with plenty of time left on their previous contracts, in top scorer Sergio Aguero and goalkeeper Joe Hart, have already put pen to paper on lucrative long-term deals at the Etihad since the start of the season, leaving Milner, with time ticking away on his, looking like an afterthought.

You'd think that Milner must feel that way too. Somehow I can't imagine him quibbling over a few extra quid, in spite of his Yorkshire roots. His concerns are also likely to stem from a lack of guarantees over playing time. He has started just half of City's 24 league matches this season and lasted the full 90 minutes in only eight of those.

Yet, despite playing fewer league minutes than any City midfielder bar Frank Lampard, only David Silva (nine) and Yaya Toure (eight) have directly contributed to more goals than he has (six).

In times of crisis, it's Milner who tends to turn up. His stoppage-time free-kick prevented what would have been a deserved defeat at home to Hull City on Saturday. He also scored twice to help the Citizens avoid humiliation at the hands of second tier Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup at the start of January.

Earlier in the campaign, it was his cushioned cut-back which allowed Lampard to equalise against Chelsea at the Etihad. He was also one of the stand-outs as City beat his old club Aston Villa in October, contributing a fine assist for Aguero in the closing stages. When the Argentine was ruled out for a month in December it was Milner who filled in for him in attack. Despite not looking entirely comfortable with the decision, he did it anyway and City enjoyed their best month of the campaign by far.

If James Milner saw someone collapsed on the street, he'd be the one calmly putting them in the recovery position and calling an ambulance - never the one who crosses the road pretending they hadn't noticed. These are endearing qualities to others, even if those running Manchester City seem take them for granted.

Liverpool and Arsenal have already been linked with the 29-year-old's services, while Roberto Mancini - the man who signed Milner initially - is reported to want him at Inter Milan next term. Crucially, the power is with the player. No-one at City can stand in his way should he decide to leave them in the summer, under the freedom of contract.

Losing Milner would come as a huge blow to his team-mates. One of whom, Pablo Zabaleta, told ​The Guardian this week: "We know how important James is for this team. His commitment and his passion have always been fantastic. He is a player who can play in different positions. He is a great professional, a fantastic lad. Hopefully he can sign a new deal and stay with us for many years." But the club's hierarchy and perhaps even the manager, Manuel Pellegrini, don't seem to have realised it yet.

They might not expect his departure to come around and bite them, but as the man himself has proved, James Milner is full of surprises.

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