Milner set to walk despite 'amicable' talks
JAMES MILNER and Martin O'Neill have had an "amicable conversation" focused on the midfielder's future at Aston Villa on his first day back at training.
It has been agreed that Milner will accompany his team-mates to Portugal this week, but it was a lukewarm welcome home, which has done little to dispel the impression that it is a question of when, not if, his anticipated move to Manchester City will happen.
The 24-year-old, accompanied by his representative from the Professional Footballers' Association, met with Villa manager O'Neill and chief executive Paul Faulkner.
A discussion of the various interpretations of the meeting Milner held with O'Neill and owner Randy Lerner before flying to South Africa was top of the agenda.
O'Neill claimed last week that Milner had "intimated" his desire to move to Eastlands at the meeting, set up before the World Cup to address the matter of a £20m bid submitted by City two weeks before. The player's camp maintain that he did no such thing, stressing that Villa had agreed to postpone talks about a new contract until after the World Cup.
The differing points of view have been the cause of much acrimony over the past few days, with the midfielder said to be concerned about how O'Neill's comments might affect his standing among supporters. O'Neill, meanwhile, is thought to be unhappy that his version of events has been challenged by one of his players.
Though Milner will travel to Portugal, it appears as though relations between him and O'Neill have been strained to a point where, amicable conversation or not, a new offer of £24m from City -- expected soon -- would tip the balance.
Though little seems to have been resolved, Milner will at least be comforted to know that he will not incur the possible wrath of fans having been excused from duty in today's friendly against Walsall. He will, though, have to face the fans who follow the squad to Portugal.
- Former Republic of Ireland Under 21 striker Billy Clarke could miss the whole of Blackpool's first Premier League campaign with a serious knee injury. The 22-year-old has been ruled out until April at the earliest after rupturing a cruciate ligament during pre-season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)