Milner's industry sure to impress watching Sheikh
Published 24/08/2010 | 05:00
SHEIKH Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan has waited almost two years to see for himself what £350m amounts to on a football pitch -- so no pressure on James Milner then as he attempted to justify his £24m transfer fee on his Manchester City debut.
Milner, the embodiment of a gritty, workmanlike Yorkshireman, is perhaps the last person to be remotely concerned by the prospect of proving his worth to the man who is paying him more than double his £40,000-a-week Aston Villa salary.
There is nothing flash about Milner. Robinho, Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor brought stardust and celebrity to City, but Milner's unique selling point is his industry and, in a City team still searching for an identity, his qualities will provide more long-term rewards.
Perhaps it was a result of City fluffing the big introduction of the sheikh that left Milner earning a bigger cheer from the Eastlands crowd than the man who has signed the cheques since he ousted Thaksin Shinawatra on September 1, 2008.
With 15 minutes to go before kick-off, the sheikh strode into the directors' box and waved to a half-empty stadium before almost bashfully sitting down.
Most of the supporters were still enjoying a pint. When he was reintroduced to a full stadium seconds before kick-off, the cheer was amplified, but the moment had been lost. You do not get a second chance to make a first impression.
Milner made sure his unveiling stuck in the memory, though. Having admitted a preference for a central role, the 24 year-old was deployed on the left, but there was no fuss, no quivering bottom lip, just a head-down, businesslike approach to the job at hand.
He abandoned his position only when it made sense and, when he searched out the ball on the right flank in the 13th minute, he created the opening goal for Gareth Barry.
Having sprung the offside trap to receive Adam Johnson's pass, Milner carried the ball to the edge of the six-yard box before pulling it back for Barry to score.
Simple, unselfish and then back to the left-hand side to nullify the threat of Liverpool's attack-minded right-back Glen Johnson and give City width.
No scissor-kicks or step-overs, but Milner more than justified his selection. The sheikh would have been impressed but his newest signing was typically modest.
"Luckily I was selected. It's always tough against Liverpool -- but we got three goals and a clean sheet."
Of the game, Milner added: "They didn't cause us too many problems in the first half, then they came out in the second half.
"The club is moving forward, they've signed a lot of great players. There is great competition (for places) which is healthy for any team so hopefully we can build on this."
Despite their impressive display, City manager Roberto Mancini refused to be drawn on whether his side are Premier League contenders.
"I don't know this," he said. "I think it's important to improve game after game, we need to gel. We need the time to become a strong squad."
Of his side's performance, he added: "It was a fantastic night for Manchester City and I am very happy. It's very important, the mentality."
The Eastlands club started the game with Joe Hart in goal and Ireland's Shay Given on the bench, and Mancini hopes Given will agree to stay and fight for his place.
The Italian said: "I hope he can remain here because Shay is a good man and a good goalkeeper.
"I respect his decision." (© Daily Telegraph, London)