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Manchester United: Out with the old?


By Guest Writer Tony Appleton.

If reports in this morning’s sports pages are to be believed, then one of the countless transfer stories that could develop this summer is the protracted transfer of arguably England’s hottest young midfielder, James Milner, to the amphitheatre of Old Trafford.

To the untrained yet fanatical footballing eye, this may seem a somewhat ‘wildcard’ ploy being played by the undoubted grandmaster of the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson. However, delve deeper into the methodical thinking and reasoning behind such a move, and you begin to understand that, despite the financial clout of their blue neighbours and London rivals alike, this move could reignite a title charge that looks set to fall short in its attempt to reach the unprecedented achievement of four straight Premier League titles.

Milner is in the form of his life. His energy and work-rate rivals Wayne Rooney and the industrious Carlos Tevez; renowned for it at United and now plying his trade with similar if not enhanced gusto at Eastlands. He has the vision to pick the correct pass or perfect cross when given that craved half a yard.  His undoubted eye for goal has led to him being 3rd top scorer in the Aston Villa side, and was 2nd for so long before John Carew’s recent prominence. All of this has led to him being both shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year award and to be certain to be on the plane to South Africa, barring an unfortunate injury, when England head coach Fabio Capello names his squad for the World Cup.

The (hopefully for England) month long jamboree that culminates on July 11th in Cape Town’s impressive flagship stadium will bring the same white-hot pressures that international tournaments always do. Milner has the head to cope with such pressure. Back in February, against his potential employers in the similarly imposing Wembley stadium, the Wortley born 24 year old smashed a penalty passed Tomas Kuszczak after barely 5 minutes. A good penalty. Capello take note.

He was galvanised by the goal, and played his part in a strong Villa unit that were ultimately denied their taste of silverware by an opportunist strike from the experienced Michael Owen and a perfect looping header from the mercurial Rooney. Playing at Old Trafford, with the vast majority of the fans supporting his every move, touch and shot, would not be nearly as difficult, allowing him to focus solely on his rapidly improving ability.

What is also a key part of Milner’s attractive arsenal is his youth. Ferguson is a shrewd operator in the transfer market, especially when focusing on the young English talent that has littered the Premier League. What is also noted is that he isn’t afraid to splash out on quality. Michael Carrick joined for £18 million. Rooney for £25 million. Rio Ferdinand for £30 million. All would walk into any Premier League team, and Milner is not far away from that top table.

Ferguson will also be considering where he needs to strengthen the team. Carrick and the impressive Darren Fletcher run that central midfield engine room with a delicious mix of force and aplomb, but what of the rest of the squad? The evergreen Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are reaching the end of their glittering careers. Anderson, cruelly sidelined with a bad injury, simply hasn’t cut it at this level. Darron Gibson is impressing in his more regular cameo roles, and Park Ji-Sung has the heart of a lion.

The acquisition of Milner arguably combines the qualities of all; the engine of Fletcher and Park, the passing nous of Carrick or Scholes and the eye for goal of long-ranger Gibson and the cute clever finisher Giggs. Rooney would also benefit from improved service from the centre of the pitch; Nani and Luis Antonio Valencia have played well after slow starts, but the degradation and sparing use of Scholes in particular is a key factor surrounding Rooney having to use his head, in more ways than one, this season.

Of course, transfers and contracts are going to be heavily subjected to what goes on at board level. The heavily supported Red Knights seem set to make a bid for the club, ousting the turbulent and distant Glazer regime in an attempt to make inroads into the crippling debt that surrounds the empire.

The ever-increasing sea of green and gold seen at every home game shows that the fans are ready for the transformation. Murmurings of sales are bubbling to the surface; the aforementioned Anderson, and the much more column friendly thoughts surrounding Dimitar Berbatov, would generate the cash required to move for Milner and potentially a number of further targets; the French duo Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and the Valencia starlet David Silva are rumoured to interest Sir Alex. Silva’s club and international team-mate David Villa surely can’t stay at the Mestalla for too much longer.

Milner doesn’t seem to be in this for the money. He has risen through the ranks at Leeds, and enjoyed his time at Newcastle United and even more so at Villa. With contract negotiations taking place at Villa Park, however, he will be in a prime position to argue that his continuous enhanced displays will warrant him with the standing to receive a bumper pay rise. He will certainly get that if United come calling, and then he would have to consider whether the urge of playing in front of 76,000 fans every other weekend would be enough to sway him. Every footballer’s dream is to play for Manchester United, isn’t it?

What is certain, however, in this ever changing world of English professional football, is that Manchester United strives to be the best at all times. That is why the signing of Milner shouldn’t be considered a ‘wildcard’ ploy, and why the England international’s first appearance at Villa Park next season could be in the black or white away kit of United.

Do you think Fergie should go for Milner? Please leave your opinions below….

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