It’s time we learned to love ‘boring’ James Milner

In an age of pampered, ego-obsessed footballers, James Milner is a throwback who deserves greater appreciation, argues Grant Woodward. Adam Davy/PA Wire.
In an age of pampered, ego-obsessed footballers, James Milner is a throwback who deserves greater appreciation, argues Grant Woodward. Adam Davy/PA Wire.
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Set to represent his country at a fourth consecutive tournament, Grant Woodward argues the ego-free midfielder from Leeds doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

AMID all the hoopla surrounding this week’s naming of teenager Marcus Rashford and a couple of Leicester City’s surprise title winners in the England squad for this summer’s European Championships, there was one name that slipped under the radar.

But then that’s to be expected. The sight of one James Philip Milner in the line-up for the fourth tournament in a row (at least the ones England has qualified for anyway) is not about to provoke fanfares or a mass outbreak of fevered expectation.

These days fans and pundits alike tend to skim over it, at the most permitting themselves a cursory nod of acceptance.

They know – we all know – that the lad from Leeds is unlikely to set the football stage alight.

He won’t skate past half the Russian team for a Michael Owen-esque wonder goal.

The chances of him pulling off a Paul Gascoigne impression with an inch-perfect Cruyff turn as he slaloms his way into the Welsh penalty box are slim to non-existent.

But there is a quiet appreciation too – at least among the more informed of England supporters – for what he will give you.

Total commitment and rock steady dependability are not to be sniffed at. Nor is the Yorkshire grit to keep going when the odds – as they always seem to be for the Three Lions – are so heavily stacked against us.

On the day the squad was announced, I contacted the James Milner Foundation, the charity set up by the unsung 30-year-old to do good work in local communities.

My thinking was that this quiet man of football was unlikely to blow his own trumpet but might just be coaxed out of his shell to get some publicity for his charity.

So far I’ve heard nothing. But that’s hardly a surprise.

Away from the football field, Milner has never been one to put himself in the public eye.

In the age of the showy footballer with more money than sense (have you seen the Michael Jackson-themed bar Raheem Sterling had installed in his house?) Milner is a welcome throwback to another era. The solid professional who lives for his sport and has little time for the circus that surrounds it.

He’s the Steve Davis of soccer. A superstar with his head screwed on. At Horsforth School he was a first-class student, leaving with 11 GCSEs and an award for PE.

Even when he fulfilled his dream of being taken on as a trainee by his beloved Leeds United, for whom he had once proudly performed ballboy duties, he refused to get carried away.

His father Peter suggested he should still attend college once a week to continue his education and he readily agreed, later explaining that he didn’t want to think that he “had already made it”.

His feet have remained firmly on the floor ever since. While the tabloids feast on photos of the Premier League’s big names in compromising positions with women, drink or dubious substances, Milner has never so much as touched a drop of alcohol.

All this common sense comes with a price, of course. Milner is boring, bleat those who rate the nation’s footballers according to the exclusiveness of the nightclub they have just been kicked out of.

It’s a view fed by an admittedly witty parody Twitter account – @ BoringMilner – which pretends to be the Liverpool midfielder tweeting out statements that are breathtaking in their mundanity. It has half a million followers.

Many overly sensitive sportsmen – I’m looking at you, Kevin Pietersen – would get the hump. Milner filmed a video of himself reading them out.

Last night he played in a European cup final and will soon jet off to represent his country in another major tournament.

If England do somehow pull off a Leicester City-sized miracle in France, it’s likely that his quiet assurance and absence of ego will play a sizeable part. And maybe then this quiet man of football will finally get the credit he deserves.