James Milner says he will make his mind up over his long-term future at Manchester City during the first half of the season when he sees how much regular action he gets, but the England international might be better off moving on now.
Milner has clearly grown increasingly frustrated at the Etihad Stadium over the past 12 months as he has often had to settle for a place on the bench in Manuel Pellegrini’s big squad. He did make 31 Premier League appearances in last season’s title-winning campaign but just only 12 of them were starts and, while he can claim to have played a part in helping his side become champions, he was often on the periphery.
Such is the depth of talent at Pellegrini’s disposal that Milner has often found himself as the odd man out alongside the likes of Jesus Navas, David Silva, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure. There were several games last season in which the former Aston Villa and Newcastle man made an impact coming off the bench but, at 28, he now wants to be among the starting eleven more often than not and will consider walking away if he does not earn a regular place in the first half of the new campaign.
However, a fresh start away from City before a ball is kicked in the top flight might be a more sensible move if he wants to revive his career – but not to another Champions League club.
Both Arsenal and Liverpool will, like City, feature in the Champions League betting this season and they were alerted to Milner’s possible availability when he said before the World Cup that he could move on. But he might be better served looking elsewhere as he would probably have to endure similar frustrations at both Anfield and the Emirates due to the competition for places in midfield at those two clubs as well.
If Milner was prepared to take a wage cut – and it seems his main motivation is simply to play regularly – he could have his pick of about six or seven clubs where he would immediately be the main man and more than likely get his wish to be played as an attacking central midfielder.
Former club Newcastle would be one option, as would Everton, while Southampton, Sunderland, West Brom and West Ham could also be considered as viable destinations for the former Leeds trainee.
Milner will, naturally, believe he should be at a top-four club and very few would be able to match his current City terms but if his sole desire is to be one of the first names on the teamsheet week in, week out, he is going to have to look further down the table.
Things could yet work out for him at the Etihad and Pellegrini is the sort of manager likely to reward him with more game-time if he shows up well during pre-season and in the early weeks of the new campaign. The problem he has, however, is that he might not even get the chance to impress, with 10 or 20 minute cameos again likely to be the order of the day.
It seems likely, then, that he will be forced to reassess his options come January but, with no shortage of clubs keen, sorting out a move now might be a wiser move.