ENGLAND’S former Leeds United star James Milner is heading for his fourth major international tournament amidst what he calls “exciting times” for Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions.
Yet the 29-year-old is reluctant to set a direct target for Euro 2016, insisting England need to merely concentrate on getting past the group stage first.
Milner is likely to feature at what would be his fourth big international tournament next year after the 2010 and 2014 World Cups plus Euro 2012.
England were eliminated in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup in a 4-1 hammering to eventual winners Germany with the Three Lions then ousted on penalties by Italy in the quarter-finals at the Euros two years later.
The Three Lions then infamously finished bottom of their group and without a single win at the next World Cup in 2014.
But Milner is optimistic that a new look England side can thrive in France, though the Liverpool midfielder is refusing to look past the group stage where Roy Hodgson’s side will be joined by Russia, Slovakia and Wales at Euro 2016.
Sizing up England’s ‘target’ for Euro 2016, Milner told The Yorkshire Post: “There’s a lot of good sides there and I think the squad has changed a lot over the last few years.
“It’s changed an amazing amount since I have been in the squad from the guys who I came inwith – David Beckham and Rio (Ferdinand) and those sorts of guys.
“The squad has changed massively and I think it is exciting times again with England.
“It’s a good mix we have got of experience and youth.
“I think as a group it is tough but that’s what happens at major tournaments and teams are there because they have qualified and they deserve to be there.
“It’s going to be tough.
“I don’t think you want to put targets on it but the first objective is obviously getting out of the group and hopefully put some good performances in early on in the competition and build up confidence.
“I’ve been very fortunate to go to three major tournaments so I’ve experienced them and I know what it’s like.
“It’s always a great occasion and hopefully I can be part of the squad and do whatever I can for the team to do well and have a successful tournament.”
In the meantime, Milner’s focus is on continued improvement for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who he joined from Manchester City in the summer.
But there’s also the rather large matter of being a young dad with Milner’s wife Amy having recently given birth to the couple’s second child, as five-week-old Zack became little brother to 16-month old Holly.
“It’s new times for us and exciting times as a family and for myself on and off the field,” said Milner.
“I’m just enjoying it. I hate losing more than ever but it slightly softens the blow now when you go home and you get to see your kids.
Children were also the focus of Milner’s brief return to Yorkshire this week with the midfielder paying a visit to Leeds Trinity University as part of his role as Chancellor of the Leeds Children’s University.
Milner’s parents still live in Leeds and the city’s football team remain close to the footballer’s heart with the former Whites ace regularly asked if he would ever go back.
That seems unlikely with United still struggling to get out of the Championship but Milner will “never say never” to a Leeds United return.
“That’s a question I get asked so often, all around the globe as well, and that shows what a big club Leeds is and the number of fans they have,” said Milner, who left Leeds for Newcastle United in 2004.
“Leeds United fans are everywhere.
“I could be in America or I could be in the Far East on tour with the team, or in Europe or in Liverpool or Manchester and you get Leeds fans coming up to you saying ‘I’m a Leeds fan, when are you going to come back.’
“I’ve been to some pretty different places and asked that question and I always have the same answer – you never say never and it’s so hard to say in football what’s going to happen.
“Things change week to week and that’s the nature of football.
“I want to play at the highest level possible for as a long as I can and hopefully Leeds get back in the Premier League.
“That’s obviously where they belong.”