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Milner can be World Cup wild card

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Phil McNulty | 08:15 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

Martin O'Neill raised a few eyebrows when he claimed James Milner's defining moment in Aston Villa's Carling Cup semi-final win at Blackburn Rovers was "a great goal by a great player."

Great goal? O'Neill had a point. A classic Villa counter that swept the length of Ewood Park and was led and finished by Milner, with an honourable mention to Stewart Downing.

Great player? No. Let's bracket that alongside O'Neill flair for hyperbole that allowed him to charitably label Ashley Young "world-class" and "a genius" after a match-winning performance at Everton last season.

O'Neill's claim provided a good-natured sideshow in semantics after a deserved Villa win, and he had the last word when he told an inquisitor: "I take your point that playing great doesn't make you a great player, but he's a great player."

Milner is not yet a great player, but he is unquestionably an outstanding one and must get the chance to back O'Neill's boast with England in South Africa this summer.

Milner's introduction as a 16-year-old at Leeds United in 2002 was overshadowed by the parallell emergence of Wayne Rooney at Everton, but the former no longer needs to live in anyone's shadow as he comes to full maturity under O'Neill's tutelage.

He was the outstanding player on show at Ewood Park as Villa established a narrow lead for next week's semi-final second leg at home, an advantage that should be sufficient to seal a Carling Cup final against Manchester City or Manchester United at Wembley.

Taking a more central role, Milner was literally at the heart of everything Villa did, and his goal ticked the full list of pre-requisites for the modern midfield player.

James Milner celebrates his goal at Ewood ParkMilner celebrates his goal at Ewood Park

He showed pace, power and stamina to take the ball great distance before exchanging passes with Downing, then showing the intelligence and composure to arrive on the end of the final pass and score with comfort.

Milner made it look easy, but it is what very good players do. Great ones even. He has only just turned 24 and his career has been something of a slow-burner, but with every week that passes it becomes clear he has to be with England at the World Cup.

Conditions in South Africa will be made for the combination of athleticism and ability possessed by Milner. He is one of the main reasons I continue to believe - and I'm in the minority - that David Beckham would be a needless luxury for Fabio Capello - providing Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott are in good health.

Milner will provide England with options courtesy of his natural versatility. He has always been comfortable on the flanks, but, as O'Neill says, "has settled into a more central midfield role as if he has played there all his life."

In a tournament environment, tactical alternatives can prove priceless. If Milner is not on the plane it would be an uncharacteristic error by England's coach.

It was easy to understand O'Neill's enthusiasm after Milner's performance. If he is not a great player yet, and surely he has to prove this in an international context, then he certainly has it within his compass to become one.

He was part of a Villa side that now look ready to take the next step in the O'Neill tenure, from promising league positions to a major final, after this win.

Villa's manager packed his side with attacking intent at Ewood Park - and it had the desired effect. Emile Heskey was the most subdued member of a strikeforce that contained pace, power and width provided by Milner, Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Downing, who also showed enough to suggest he might keep Capello interested between now and the end of the season.

The visitors were a constant source of menace on the break, although they can be criticised for a failure to cash in on their supremacy, almost allowing Blackburn back in after the break.

As Villa supporters celebrated at the final whistle, the mood among the Ewood Park patrons was in marked contrast. Troubled times these for this splendid club, the one-time Premier League champions who are now living in reduced circumstances.

Sam Allardyce told a hard luck story after the game, based around two second-half efforts from Nikola Kalinic that bounced back off the woodwork. It was easy to see why Allardyce would clutch at these flimsy straws, but over the whole game Blackburn were second best.

Being an ordinary side is bad enough. Being unlucky and ordinary is a recipe for struggle - and that is what Rovers will face for the rest of the season unless they turn logic on its head and win at Villa next week.

An added problem for Allardyce is that he has failed to win the hearts and minds of many Blackburn supporters, who take a dim view of his tactical approach, making for an occasionally mutinous atmosphere.

It does seem Allardyce's style is an acquired taste - and one that some will never actually acquire, as proved by the swathes of empty seats inside Ewood Park for a game of such importance.

Loud jeers broke out as early as the first half, followed by what is becoming a familiar cry of "Big Sam, Big Sam Sort It Out."

In Allardyce's defence, he is having to sort it out on a tight budget and an even tighter schedule. Blackburn were playing their second game this week. Not ideal.

No such problems for Villa as they contemplate their first Wembley appearance since the 2000 FA Cup Final, inspired by the magic of Milner. Not a great player yet but showing all the signs he may become one, no doubt leaving O'Neill to tell us he was right all along.

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Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    What's with the title of the link giving this such a negative spin? 'Milner - Good But Not Great'? Wouldn't 'Milner - World Cup Option' have been better? Stupid BBC.

  • Comment number 2.

    "He showed pace, power and stamina to take the ball great distance"

    Pace? Milner? I don't think so! However, power and stamina allied with intelligence and skill will do nicely for England's midfield.

    On current form, Milner is ahead of Gerrard, Walcott, Beckham and Barry. I've got a feeling he'll be the Nicky Butt of the coming World Cup...

  • Comment number 3.

    Surely, for Jimmy to become a "great" player, all he needs to do is continue playing the way he is (if he can improve, then even better). He creates chances, holds the ball up, scores goals, gets back to defend, can run with the ball, shoot, cross, dribble and what's more, he can do all very well. He's a better defender than some that we've had in previous seasons, AND a better striker, it speaks volumes for the quality he possesses that he's played for Villa in the majority of these positions and always looked comfortable. When he was with Villa a few years back, he had massive potential but clearly had work to do, since rejoining, he's flourished, and any doubts as to who would replace Gareth Barry have been answered resoundingly. This may sound like O'Neillian hyperbole, but I don't think Milner has an obvious flaw in his game (save for maybe a few wayward penalties). He's already produced several match-winning performances this season and he seems to be incredibly down to earth and focused on playing football, the world's at his feet and I think he's not all that far away from being a "great" player.

  • Comment number 4.

    Why the negativity around Milner for?,he is great and I know realise as a Newcastle fan we never should of sold him,England wise except Joe Cole,Gerrard and Rooney he is probably the best other player we have technically,the other three would all be classed as great so I feel Milner is too,he works hard at his game and will constantly improve unlike Young who does not have workrate Milner has and has gone backwards as a result,and as to O'Neills comments he is just bigging his players up and making them think they are better than they actually are,it is a tactic his old Forest boss Nigel Clough used as well and it is clear to see his management is still used by Martin at times.

  • Comment number 5.

    Milner has been Villa's standout performer this season and has been a revelation in the central midfield role. The interchanging that Ashley Young, Downing, Milner and to an extent Agbonlahor do during a match is both catching on the eye and effective.

    Undoubtedly James has a way to go before he is "world class" and in games against Arsenal and Liverpool he didn't quite match up to earlier displays. But he will certainly grow into the role the more he plays there.

    I do feel the article was needlessly negative about an excellent player having a great game of football. Managers will always talk up their players, just as journalists will declare Premier League champions and relegation candidates after one match. None of it should be taken literally.

  • Comment number 6.

    andythetoonfan - "his old Forest boss Nigel Clough"


  • Comment number 7.

    Another McNulty blog piece that suggests less time around certain footballers wouldn't go a miss. Exactily what does Milner not have, his own personal plane to fly him to LA and back? A lawyer so good he gets off thuggery charges? A PL manager as an uncle? A tendency to get into scrapes with dodgy ticket-touts? A celeb girfreind and the personality of a moron? Yes he lacks all of these but is still going to South Africa, only without what all those other "golden generation" players will be taking to the World Cup, a record of failure and disappointing contributions when it matters!

  • Comment number 8.

    Phil you are a bit of a misery guts. Milner was outstanding last night and you could have been a bit more generous in your blog. You just didn't need to write your opinion in those negative terms.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good piece, but surely milner has proved himself as a great premiership player and is only yet to prove himself on the international stage. He's got bags of potential and he's a model pro, the latter being something that really appeals to Capello. I think James Milner will go to SA and as for Ashley Young, he's got a lot to prove after a disappointing 2009.

  • Comment number 10.

    Considering this article was supposed to be about Milner there's no real insight into his abilities. It's amazing how you can manage to turn a positive performace by a player improving all the time into a negative piece.

    Surely we can ignore Martin O'Neills rather excitable tendencies and write something exclusively positive about the player. Oh and for god sake drop the Beckham bone, you're in the minority because you are wrong!

  • Comment number 11.

    not seen villa play since milner made the switch to midfield but when I read about O'Neill changing his position it certainly made good sense to me. I have never really thought milner was that outstanding as a winger, i certainly would put atleast four other players ahead of him for the left and right of Englands midfield.

    Reasons being is that he isn't very fast and has got that much skill when it comes to beating his man. He does however have good technique in general (although needs a better first touch sometimes), is a great passer and has terrific stamina.

    Guess it takes a manager like O'Neill to spot these sort of opportunities that other managers miss.

  • Comment number 12.

    "Milner is not yet a great player, but he is unquestionably an outstanding one"

    This man writes a load of unmitigated drivel.

  • Comment number 13.

    I really rate him - and to me he is exactly the kind of player we need at Man Utd (someone with a sense of urgency!). Once we take a massive loss on nani and Tosic (there must be some reason why fergie doesn't even play him!). We need to wave a big cheaque - and it'll need to be big - in front of Villa to get him.

    And whilst we are a bit over-leveraged it is a short term problem that should be easily re-financed.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think Milner is better than you give him credit for, he does everything by the book and rarely wastes possession. Additionally, playing first team football consistently for 8 years doesn't make him a slow-burner does it now? Yes he's not won trophies, but those only go to those four clubs that you usually obsess about about - believe it or not but football goes deeper than that.

    "Conditions in South Africa will be made for the combination of athleticism and ability possessed by Milner. He is one of the main reasons I continue to believe - and I'm in the minority - that David Beckham would be a needless luxury for Fabio Capello - providing Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott are in good health."

    Now tell me, what exactly has Walcott done in the past lord-knows how many months to merit a seat on that plane?

  • Comment number 15.

    I'll never forget Milner's debut for Leeds. In the midst of a pretty dreadful season, he played against Chelsea and scored a belter, leaving Marcel Desailly flat on his backside in the process.
    He's certainly having a great season and is a quality player, but, like Phil, I'm not sure he quite deserves the title Great just yet. Have no fears, though- he will!

  • Comment number 16.

    Misery guts? Me? I'm a very cheerful and endlessly optimistic chap I'll have you all know.

    I am surprised people regard this as a negative piece. It is absolutely packed with a list of Milner's qualities, makes a point of saying just how good he was last night, how he no longer needs to live in anyone's shadow, how he must be in the England World Cup squad. Just imagine if I wrote a "positive" piece about him.

    After the match Martin O'Neill made the specific point, even when given the opportunity to temper his praise, that Milner was a "great" player. I do not happen to agree, but think he is developing into an outstanding one.

    I also think he might, indeed should, get the chance to see if he can develop into a great player at the World Cup. Where is the negativity in that?

  • Comment number 17.

    I remember when Milner was on loan at my mighty Swindon Town. He only played about 5 games but scored 2 goals and everyone knew he would be going on to great things. An honest footballer and at the right club with Aston Villa.

    By the way, this article is just another chronicle of utter tosh from you Phil. Can't remember the last time you wrote something decent.

  • Comment number 18.

    I like Milner. He's a good player, no question. Unfortunately though I think he's one of these that will always fall short at the very top (international, Champions League) level, simply because he lacks both the pace and trickery to be a true flair player (e.g. Lennon) and the physicality and power to be a dominant central midfielder (e.g. Gerrard). Don't get me wrong, he's been excellent this season and deserves his England recognition, as well as the plaudits he gets from the media. But coming off the bench at the world cup I want a player in the attacking midfield positions who can change the game and I don't think Milner is the type to generally make a sudden game-changing impact that will win us a match. True, he is consistently a much better player than Ashley Young, but I would rather have Young in my side / squad - someone who can beat a man and make a telling delivery in the final third.

    I know I'm being contradictory considering that this piece comes on the back of his match winning performance against Blackburn, but at the top level I see him as a versatile workhorse who can fill in, or do a job. Unfortunately for him he is a player I feel that doesn't quite have the raw materials for the very top. Very good player though and someone who seems to be a pretty decent lad to boot.

  • Comment number 19.

    Only 24?! He has been playing in the Prem for 100 years it seems! (Ok since time re-began in 92).

    I was in the packed Villa end at 'Empty Ewood' last night and Jimmy did exactly what he has been doing for a month or so now - let's hope that not only he keeps it up, but the other players raise their game to match him too.

    Up the Villa.

  • Comment number 20.

    James Milner is an absolute certainty for the WC Squad - Fabio knows

    As for Allardyce is it any wonder his own fans are turning on him? he must be the worst manager in the league he is "anti-football" i remember him berating Benni Mcarthy for taking a quick short free-kick rather than hoofing it in the box that says it all about the man (let us not forget Benni has a champions league winners medal in his locker (amongst many others) and "Big Sam" doesn't like him - why? because Benni likes to play football.

  • Comment number 21.

    Phil - why not write an article focusing on his positives? Milner is one of the shining lights of English football for the next 6 years.

    The use of words such as 'great', 'outstanding' and 'world class' are all relatively subjective. Last night, I thought Milner was great. Does that make him a 'great' player - who knows. But it does make me increasingly confident that if he does make the plane to South Africa, England's credentials will be strongly enhanced.

    I agree with much of what you've written (except say Beckham is a 'needless luxury') but cannot for the life of me see the need to write the article in such a way that. not only does it seem like a critique of Milner, but seems like a critique of Milner based on what someone else said about him.

  • Comment number 22.

    you seem to be suggesting that because Milner gets his head down and works with quiet industry that somehow his qualities, we everyone else seem to be seeing in abundance, are somehow absent or lacking. furthermore it is easy to label his career as slow burning if you take the unrealistic stance that kids are blessed with instant magic. to be where milner is now in terms of his attributes, and as you yourself point out only just past the 24 mark is an outstanding achievement and one I think deserves a lot more credit than the dour spin that this article creates. 24 is young!

    agree with #2 re being the nicky butt of the world cup

    but in terms of beckham, let the Liverpool prediction be a lesson of foresight to you, phil. do you even watch his games for galaxy and Milan? he has been beyong outstanding, and his desire is especially laudable. and I know who I'd rather have on the field if we need some quality at the end of a game.

    at the end of the day, one of gerrard, lampard, barry, cole or lennon in midfield will probably pick up an injury meaning both will go...

  • Comment number 23.

    I actually had to get a log in after about a year of reading blogs on this website and finally I must say something.

    I feel the article title is very negative and contradictory given that you have gone on then to call JM an outstanding player. In my eyes, someone described as outstanding would supercede someone called great. I would go so far as to call Milner a great player now. I think this season in particular he has been a key factor in Villas excellent performances.

    Funnily enough I had a conversation about Milners inclusion for the worldcup squad last night whilst watching my team lose.....again. On current form, he would be my first choice for the right side of midfield. I am sure some will disagree, but I would have hoped nobody would argue against him being on the plane.

  • Comment number 24.

    This blog gave me an unexpected chuckle this morning.

    Your points you have made are generally valid Phil, and people are quick to use labels such as 'great' and indeed ones like 'legend'. But the words 'pot', 'kettle' and 'black' marched to the front of my mind when you accused O'Neill of 'flair for hyperbole'. Dammit, that seems to be the cornerstone of your journalistic style!

    Anyway, how's that title prediction business coming along? ;-)

  • Comment number 25.

    Martin O'Neill, while undoubtedly taken to hyperbole, pales in compared to the sycophantic gushing which we are all sunbjected to by Sky every week.

    I do understand your desire to take a stand against people throwing words like 'great' around when describing players because it's so easy (Jamie Redknapp, for example, seems to be hot-wired to the word 'great' when discussing anything at all to do with the premiership).

    I do feel, however, that it has been a tad unfair to roll this point into a discussion of Milner, who has been something of a revelation for Villa this year, and maybe it could have happened as a separate story because the point has gotten a little bit lost I feel. I don't believe this is a negative piece at all, I just think the great v outstanding argument has detracted somewhat from your positive critique of a decent, hard-working and talented player.

  • Comment number 26.

    Im sorry but these are the type of articles that really annoy me. One good game against a very poor side and we're thinking he's a good player and should go to the world cup. Milner is an average PL player no more. Wait and see at the WC he will look v ordinary. All these players we build up as the bees knees are v ordinary in international company because they havent got the skills.
    Gerrard is a prime example. Never performed for England yet is lauded as a world beater (and im a Liverpool supporter!). Milner, like Lennon, SWP etc will come up against v good defences in SA and we'll see how good they are. At lease Lennon and SWP have pace -Milner looks like a lump of lard.

  • Comment number 27.

    Let me say again this is not negative article. List the positives. I could barely have been more upbeat. I do feel "great", in reference to particular players, is an over-used term and Martin O'Neill was particularly keen to stress that Milner is a great player...I just don't happen to agree with him.

    Is Ashley Young "world class" or "a genius", as O'Neill called him last season? I would suggest not.

    But is James Milner a "great" player? Who are the great players in English football? And is James Milner one of them? The floor, as ever, is yours.

    He is outstanding and is the identikit of the modern footballer, with a versatility that will make him a huge asset for England at the World Cup.

  • Comment number 28.

    Quote - "David Beckham would be a needless luxury for Fabio Capello - providing Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott are in good health."

    I do not agree with this Phil, for a couple of reasons. David Beckham needs to go for his experience and that right foot of his. I cannot believe the amount of flack the guy gets despite AC Milan fighting to sign him every year and his professionalism as well as work rate are higher than any player I have ever seen.

    My other reasoning is Beckham is more effective than Theo Walcott. You can argue about pace and youth, and I would have to agree to a point, but until Theo actually believes he deserves to be on the pitch, he is a shadow of what he should be. He has zero confidence, and not the "striker struggling to get a goal" confidence, but the "I feel I'm out of my depth without realising how good I actually am" confidence. Thing is, that can happen overnight and he will be brilliant, but until then Beckham should get the nod as he nearly always "turns up".

    Milner should go, but not for the right-sided birth, but the left. He is genuinely two footed, just like Ashley Young who could also go (between him and Joe Cole).

  • Comment number 29.

    Phil, I'm sure if Milner played in a Liverpool shirt you would have no hesitation or problem labelling him as a great or world class.

  • Comment number 30.


    I think you're criticism (if I can call it that) of O'Neill is unfair. I personally think O'Neill is a good manager (any black marks on his record?) and his enthusiasm and the encouragement he gives players suggests that he learnt alot from Clough. Giving belief to players is vital to their performance I would say.

    Put it like this, I listen to and believe O'Neill alot more than someone like Benitez who just seems to flatter to deceive and comes out with right guff e.g. guaranteeing a top four finish.

  • Comment number 31.

    The title of the blog is rather negative. Although I do think Milner needs a bigger stage to prove his greatness, eg. Champions League or Internationals.

    Towards the end of his Newcastle career he played a few games in the support striker role and he seemed to be far more productive and involved than he ever was when we had him on the wing. He doesn't quite have the flair and trickery or the burst of pace required for his more direct style to be as effective on the wing.

    If I was English I'd be far happier with Beckham than Walcott. Beckham brings experience and a delivery that is by far the best in the team. Walcott has bags of pace and scored a hattrick against a poor Croatia team and that's about it. Very little end product.

  • Comment number 32.

    Phil, you say O'Neill is playing with semantics but your whole argument is itself based on semantics. O'Neill thinks Milner is "great". You think he's wrong and only think Milner is "outstanding". But my Chambers dictionary defines "great" as "outstandingly talented". So actually he's right and you agree with him!

  • Comment number 33.

    How much rage can there be towards the BBC?!

    Unbelievable. I personally really enjoy reading Phil's columns, it's refreshing compared with the journalistic idiots in some of the daily newspapers.

    And to be fair, in this case the title hits the nail on the head. Milner - good player, not a great. He needs about a decade more experience, some silverware success and a consistently high performing team around him to do that.

    The question of him going to the World Cup isn't really a question. With a left midfielder of Steven Gerrard, England need an alternative to that and with Joe Cole only just coming back I have no doubts Capello will pick Milner, especially considering the versatility.

    But please, everyone who slates this blog, and all the others that Phil writes, especially the ones about Liverpool (which he seems to take a serious battering over) can you tell me why you slate it rather providing insightful discussion points as this blog is supposed to?

  • Comment number 34.

    Funny thing, opinion. Milner is a good player. A very good player. He has been for some time - and hopefully O'Neill and Villa will see this potential realised. Milners' performances for England have been very promising.

    I didn't see the game yesterday, but by all accounts, Milner played well. And he does appear to have the motivation, yet humility to concentrate on his football rather than the extra-curricular extravagances of his peers.

    But the point I'd like to make is, well done Phil McNulty on not filling this space with an over-hyped and sensationalist blog, as has been the case this season (and in the past) by most journo's and pundits about the good, bad and terrible of football.

    Good player, yes. Great player, lets hope so come summer time. In the meantime, lets not get over-excited and just enjoy watching these players improve. It would be nice to go into the World Cup with somewhat of a secret weapon.

  • Comment number 35.


    James Milner is much better than your opinion of James Milner. I hope he starts for England in the World Cup. With Gerrard and Lampard in midfield, it would take Hesky fifteen touches to control the long balls those two pesky midfielders would be hoisting up to him. I dream of an England team where the ball stays on the ground for more than two seconds. Alas, that dream will never be realised while Gerrard and Lampard are in the team.

  • Comment number 36.

    To MrBlueBurns...where have you been? Happy New Year to you. Title predictions no longer my speciality. I have had emails from fans pleading with me not to tip their teams for any form of success. By the way, your post almost qualified as praise. You're slipping.

    OK - some have taken offence at my suggestion that Milner is not a great player, but I have hardly criticised him. The great players are the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. I would say England have another great player in Steven Gerrard, despite his struggles this season.

    What makes a great player? Who are England's great players?

    And Villa fans, if I am wrong about James Milner, what makes him a great player? All views welcome.

  • Comment number 37.

    I think waht Milner adds to any England squad is versatility. He can play on the left, right and as is proving down the middle. Although he doesnt have the skill or the pace of the likes the top midfielders and will never be a world player of the year winner, but can be an important part of any team he plays for.

    I asked a Villa fan about him the other week, stating how impressed I have been and they informed me while he has been doing well, the majority of it is media hype, he has been picked as flavour of the moment and while putting in steady displays he hasnt looked as impressive and dangerous as say Lennon.

    So Phil without doubt I agree he must be part of Capello's plans and will become and important player he will never be in the same bracket as Gerrard, Scholes, Hoddle, Best, to name a few British players who were great.

    I agree with teh majorit y of the blog, contrary to what some other posters are saying, at 24 he has had 8 years in the top of the sport, despite become the youngest scorer in the prem, his career stagnated after that when you compare to say some of the other young players who burst on the scene at his age. Looks like Newcastle wasnt the career move it was supposed to be.

    But he is proving now what he is capable of.

    As for post 20 and this media driven anti football brigade (Im sorry but there is more than one way to play football). I hear this tosh about there is only one way to play blah blah bla..

    What Im getting at is Big Sam knows what he is up against with Blackburn he has his way of playing and if giving the chance then he will stabilise Blackburn which considering the size of the club and the poor fan base it can attract would be a lukcy position to be in.

    Look at Newcastle and what fans pressure does to you. If he had stayed there they would still be in the prem, I have no doubt about that but the fans didnt like his style, and look where they are now.
    Blackburn are on extremely limited resources, are not an attractive club to play for so he has got his work cut out and needs teh support of the fans


    And lastly Phil, Have you watched Beckham since moving t Milan? If not I suggest you do so. As it stands I would have Beckham in my team over Walcott any day of the week, the kid has been very poor and has been living off one night in an England shirt too long

  • Comment number 38.

    Phil, your critique of Milner's year so far, world cup chances, shift to a central position and the development of his qualities as a midfielder are all fair...

    But what is all this nonsense about "good not great" on the back of a great performance last night? Why play down his managers praise? Why have an opinion on Milner's stature at the age of 24? It's an odd way of trying to make a point about his need to prove himself internationally.

    Get off your high horse Phil and stop being such a misery guts, it skewers your journalistic approach. Milner was certainly great last night so what's with all the negativity?

  • Comment number 39.

    Where did you get your NUJ card, McNulty - off the back of a Rice Krispies box?

    In what world, apart from your own, is 'great' better than 'outstanding'?

    And you wonder why people treat you with such disdain...

  • Comment number 40.

    Phil for a BBC sport's columnist you’re wrong too often. Based on current form Milner is a much better player than Owen and yet you’ve been screaming regularly on this blog for the inclusion of the latter to SA. I also know you don’t watch much footie outside the Premier League but Beckham has also earned his place.

  • Comment number 41.

    #36 Phil

    Happy new year to you to. Family, snow and yes, even work, have done for me for the last couple of weeks I'm afraid!

    Praise? The praise I would give you on this blog is the subject matter itself. I think many of us are becoming a little tired of the media's appetite for Man U, Liverpool and Man City so to write about Milner counts as perhaps being a little leftfield and very welcome.

    My concern for Milner and indeed Villa (both of whom I would like to see do well) is that they have seemed to 'bottle it' when push has come to shove. Sure they beat Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season, but that is increasingly looking like easy pickings when even Reading can pull of that trick. They also beat Chelsea but individual errors did for Chelsea that day and Villa rode a storm to come away with the win.

    However, when they went to Arsenal, with a chance to go above them into third I believe, they just didn't turn up! It is those sorts of games that define their progress, and if I'm right, it shows that Villa have some way to go yet and if Man City do go on a run, then Villa's promise, perhaps along with Milner's, may go unfulfilled again.

    Do you see that picture the same way?

  • Comment number 42.

    Milner is truly a class act who is playing out of his skin week in and out. The same can't be said about Theo Wallcott who you think should be on the plane for the world cup. I know he scored a hatrick against Croatia but what has he done since. A certain Michael Owen has scored his fair share of England goals and has proberly played more than Theo this season and he still can't be guaranteed a World Cup spot.

  • Comment number 43.

    JohnnyRichmond said: "And whilst we are a bit over-leveraged it is a short term problem that should be easily re-financed."

    And here we have, in one sentence, a nice little summation of what is rotten in football. A horrible, horrible American business phrase talking about living beyond your means in a discussion about a footballer.

    Over-leveraged? I assume this means that you're in debt up to your eyeballs?

    Re-financed? You mean borrowing even more money so your debt goes beyond your hairline?

    Listen to yourself! You've become a self-parody. Speak in English, rather than this revolting American dress-it-up-as-something-else, and maybe you'll be able to see it as well.

    As for the blog. Why is it negative, people? It's not negative, but realistic! There's far too much rubbish talked in our media of "world class" players. People bang on about Gerrard being world class, but he's no more than a great club player and average International player, so well done to Phil for being more realistic about someone who's definitely a good league player, but way off being proven to be a great.

  • Comment number 44.

    milner has played consistantly well all season. he's versatile, works hard and is comfortable in a number of positions.

    if a world cup squad was being selected on merit then the likes of joe cole, theo walcott and david beckham have a lot of work to do to be selected ahead of milner.

    team work and execution of tactics win world cups, not putting the biggest names on the field. if england have not yet learned that then they probably never will.

  • Comment number 45.

    How this can be considered a negative piece is beyond me, Phil was among the first journos to start extolling Milner's virtues as a genuine world cup prospect.

    Good blog Phil, do you think Joe Cole's place on the plane is in doubt? I can see Hart, Downing and Cattermole getting the call for the Egypt game. Walcott's spot is all but gone.

  • Comment number 46.

    Oh dear, I see McNulty's spat the dummy out, judging by his modding.

    Not my fault you're not a very good journalist, mate.

  • Comment number 47.

    and #29

    as a reds fan I can only hope we get the chance to put your theory to the test.

  • Comment number 48.

    37. At 10:17am on 15 Jan 2010, sssspurssss wrote:

    As for post 20 and this media driven anti football brigade (Im sorry but there is more than one way to play football). I hear this tosh about there is only one way to play blah blah bla..

    Quote from the late, great Brian Clough:

    "If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he'd have put grass up there."

    Watching one of "Big Sams" teams = Sore neck

  • Comment number 49.

    Phil and MrBlueBurns get a room you two and Phil stop prioritising his comments over everyone elses in terms of moderation.

    Firstly MrBlueBurns you say that the media has an appetite for Man Utd, Liverpool and Man City but you can hardly say anything different about Chelsea. It's been a circus there for the past few seasons and the media have lapped it up especially BBC and the ever pro-Chelsea Sky.

    Agree with you on Villa in general, the game against Arsenal proved they are some way off yet. They deservedly beat Utd at Old Trafford but yeah I can see Utd going to Villa Park and winning just because that's what happens with Villa. Also you're harsh saying they beat Chelsea because of individual errors, on the day Villa were the much better side apart from a 20 minute spell and they won on the merit of the team not because Chelsea were so poor.

  • Comment number 50.

    Given the flak he's received in many of these comments, Phil might do well to follow up with a blog defining "great" players. Semantics aside, Milner clearly is right at the top of his game at the moment and it's critical Villa hold on to him in the long term. It's not so much a question of being in Capello's squad now, but whether he's in the first XI. I bet he's used as a halftime/60 min substitute, but a lot can change between now and June. And I might not be in large company with my bet!

  • Comment number 51.


    "In what world, apart from your own, is 'great' better than 'outstanding'?"

    In that great suggests timeless, among the best ever, while outstanding would mean above average in the current climate (stands out amongst his peers). The only reason great is not seen as a meaningful superlative is because, as Phil said, it's overused.

  • Comment number 52.

    As for great players, you have the obvious culprits: Ronaldo, Kaka, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.

    As for England's great players (i'm assuming you mean, players who can play for England, as opposed to those in the premier league)... in my opinion:

    Rooney - who now that he has been unleashed tactically I think will break into Ronaldo / Messi status. He is that good.

    Gerrard, for single handedly running his team and keeping them close to the top for longer than i care to remember.

    Lampard - prob not a popular choice, but an English player with excellent technical ability. He always plays the game the right way.

    As a Utd fan, I want to say Ferdinand, because when he's on form, he is a very classy and intelligent defender. He has the ability to be the best in the game. But too often dips, so maybe not 'great great'.

    And though I am loath to say it, John Terry. Embodies the way the English play. Robust, reliable and always willing to put himself on the line. Like a Rooney, but in defence.

  • Comment number 53.

    Phil - perhaps the misunderstanding comes because I think you are using one article to make 2 separate points.

    1. Managers and pundits over use of hyperbolic phrases to praise a player,
    2. Milner is growing as a player, he has a lot of quality, and though he can't yet be put in the same bracket as the Gerrard's, Messi's and Ronaldo's of the footballing world, he could be an important figure for England's world cup ambitions

    I think most people would agree with you on both points, but by merging them together and using O'Neill's comments about Milner as the example to tie the two points together, it does comes across as being unduly critical towards Milner. I think the new headline set's the article off on the right foot though!

    In terms of who are the 'great' English players in football today?

    Well, for me, it's Terry, Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham and Rooney. They are truly 'great' players in my opinion and from that perspective, Milner isn't a 'great' player.

    Some dictionaries have over 20 definitions of the word 'great' and I suppose to a large extent, a lot of confusion is based largely on which of those definitions you are using for great (better than good or truly outstanding - both valid dictionary defintions)...

  • Comment number 54.

    I would say England have another great player in Steven Gerrard, despite his struggles this season.
    HAD may be the more appropriate choice. At Liverpool it is beginning to look as if Alonso was the key player in midfield NOT Gerrard.

    I know the same form is temporary and class is permanent but has Gerrard peaked? Have we seen the best of him? Has he burned himself out with his continued efforts to raise Liverpool above the mediocre? Or like i said in the first paragrapg has Alonsos absence exposed him?

    As for Milner? He is not "Great" is he? Yet, i mean come on. Hes a very very good player and Phil is right to point out that "great" is bandied about far too readily these days.
    Great is Best,Puskas, Di Stefano, Pele, Cruyff and Maradona.

    Not even Messi and Ronaldo can be considered great yet although they are on the cusp. Which means if they are on the cusp Milner is nowhere near.

    Lets see what he does in the World Cup first eh?

  • Comment number 55.

    I am a life long villa fan even at the tender age of 22! i have watched milner grow and mature from his early loan spell with Villa to his current 'great' form. Milner is without doubt the in form player on the potential England midfield for the world cup. You look at Gerrard , Lampard, even Barry and on current form I would have Milnder ahead of all of them. Barry's loss in hindsight no appears to be a blessing, as Milner will no doubt now be in Capello's thoughts and by the time the world cup comes round I would not be surprised if Milner is ahead in the pecking order of Barry. He is a great player , I don' care what other people say, he has been outstanding for Villa this season and as we are in the top sixth of the premier league, and on the brink of a major cup final that makes his talent and determination 'great'. The likes of Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool would all love to have a player like Milner holding things in their midfield, and I think there are few other players making such an impact in their club team. Yes there is the question if Milner can cut it internationally, but then thats going to take a risk from Mr.Capello, I just hope he takes it...
    Finally on the Beckham point, im sure i am in the minority believing Beckham should not go to the World Cup, I believe he has been off the pace for the last few years, and the wealth and depth of traditional english wingers would be far more dangerous in attack then Beckham is. Lennon, Walcott, Wright Philips, Young can all attack with far more venom then the matured and experienced Becks...

  • Comment number 56.

    "In that great suggests timeless, among the best ever, while outstanding would mean above average in the current climate (stands out amongst his peers)."

    What. A. Load. Of. Rubbish.

    Are you his mam or something?

  • Comment number 57.

    Negativity? The only negativity I can see is the number of people whinging about this blog, presumably people who read the headline rather than the article.

    Milner isn't a great player, simple as. He's very good, but he hasn't won anything, or achieved anything of note in football. Great players define their generation - players like Pele, Maradonna, Cruyff, etc, or at the very least dominate and define successful teams (Ronaldo, Messi etc).

    Milner does a good job for a decent side - nothing more. Yes, he's one of England's better players but - with the possible exception of Gerrard (although not by this season's standards) there are no great players in the England team. Just very good ones.

  • Comment number 58.

    #49 Pulpgrape

    1) It's called being civil.

    2) I'm well aware that the media have been riding the Chelsea bandwagon over the last few years. However, I was referring to more recently where Chelsea have been getting on with their job and I've barely seen a blog about them! The problems and issues at the clubs that I mentioned have been blogged to death in the meantime. Anyway, even if you are right that Chelsea have been written about too much, I'm still of the opinion that Phil has picked a good, alternative subject to blog about this time, and may it continue as well.

    3) I wasn't excusing Chelsea or belittling Villa's win, but if Chelsea had taken any of the number of good chances that came their way later in that game, then I reckon that Chelsea would have got at least a point that day.


  • Comment number 59.

    To pidgeGull...I am starting to worry about Joe Cole's World Cup prospects, and I have been an avid supporter of his for a long time. I hope he gets regular football at Chelsea and the chance to prove he can make the squad.

    As far as England's World Cup team, I would suggest Milner is currently ahead of Theo Walcott and David Beckham if a starting line-up was picked tomorrow.

    How about Lennon on the right, Milner on the left and Gerrard tucked in behind Rooney? I like the sound of that but that means doing what appears to be the unthinkable - namely sacrificing Heskey.

    Just a quick technical one to BeyondThePale...I actually do not remember the last time I moderated a comment on this blog. Not my job and not something I do. I am always happy to accept constructive criticism and respond to it. I do not moderate the blog.

  • Comment number 60.

    Deliberately or not you've chosen to mis-interpret the use of the word great. MON would never have chosen to compare Milner to "greats" like Pele but I bet you he's a great player for a manager to work with and every premiership manager is wishing he had a Milner in his side.

    Not only is he a work horse for his team but the goals he scored against Sunderland and Blackburn show he is capable of scoring any type of goal. The likes of Defoe are scorers of great goals but miss too many like Milner scored at Blackburn to be considered great goalscorers. If Milner continues to progress like he is he'll begin to rival the likes of Lampard and Gerrard as the greatest premiership midfielders we've seen.

    However, to become a true great he'll have to transfer this on to the international stage and this will mean doing something no English player has done for many years due to the technical deficiencies of the English game. Personally, I think Milner will be a premiership great but that's as far as he can go.

  • Comment number 61.

    My mistake - just the jumping over everyone else's comments in order to show preference to Blue threw me.

  • Comment number 62.

    Capello has already said that he will only take in-form players and match-fit players to the World Cup, so Milner has got to go in my opinion. Capello doesn't care about reputations, he only cares about who's performing well, which is a refreshing change from previous England managers.

    People like Milner, Lennon, Defoe etc have got to go to the World Cup. Other players like Joe Cole and Walcott should be left behind unless they miraculously gain some form in the second half of the season, which let's not forget, requires them to spend far less time on the treatment table.

    On Milner himself, I think he's come on leaps and bounds at Villa. he always gives 100% and has a fair amount of quality to go with his attitude, which is more than can be said of a lot of England players (Lescott, Wright-Phillips)

  • Comment number 63.

    Phil, what are you talking about Beckham being a needless luxury? Please start watching his games for Ac Milan-words to describe his first 2 games include 'scintillating' and 'inspired' and other footballesque terminology.

    Why are we obsessed in this country with 'athletic', 'stamina', workhorse like players when we need inspiration, early balls and unconventionality if we want to win anything? Didn't anyone watch us go out to Brazil last time we were at the world cup. That was everything that is bad about England and seems that the press pack still don't get the fact that to win international tournaments, unless you are Germany, you have to be much more sophisticated than this.

    Also please note that virtually the same Blackburn team that lost 1-0 to Villa last night are the same one that Man City (with around £70million on the bench) trounced 4-1 at the weekend. Villa should have done a lot better and if MON can find the cash to add either a Drogba, Torres, Anelka or Rooney to his squad as well as a creative midfielder they could definitely get top 4.

  • Comment number 64.

    I think Beckham, Gerrard and Rooney are the only English players I would consider 'great'. Terry misses out as for his club if he feels stranded he lunges at the player with the ball and for England he undermines the confidence in the wing backs by leaving his position to cover them too easily (less so under Capello, but a common issue under McClaren).

  • Comment number 65.

    Completely disagree with Westdrop (18). There is no truth in your comments whatsoever. Milner has proved very effective at International level. His performances at England U21 level have been consistently good and the start he has made for the England senior squad has been equally impressive. He is a positive and fearless character and the assist he provided against Holland (friendly & senior debut) was a great example of this.

  • Comment number 66.

    #59 Phil

    Is Gerrard actually going to be fit or in form come the summer?

    Also, I think Walcott is a talented player but what has he actually done recently to warrant a place?

  • Comment number 67.

    Have to disagree with you Phil. Although I understand your point about managers/media/fans hyping certain players up to the 'great player' status for no real reason, I have to say I do feel that James Milner is a player worthy of this status. He is brought so much to the teams he has played in and has been a regular name on the Villa team sheet and also when he played at Newcastle United. In my opinion he has cemented his place in the England first team now, and if he wasn't to start against USA I would be very suprised. Also is there much difference from being an 'Outstanding player' to a 'great player'?
    Please let me know your thoughts?

  • Comment number 68.


    No need to get defensive, as you know I regularly reply to your comments on here, most of the time because you spout some pro-Chelsea nonsense that implies your club is hard done by or mistreated :P The media love a story so when teams get on with the job they aren't interested. Man City are the new media darlings because of the money and the BBC are especially guilty of giving them excessive coverage (probably in the hope their staff will get executive seats or something).

    Yeah true Chelsea had their chances in that game but Man Utd had loads of chances against Villa too, doesn't mean that Villa didn't deserve their victory.

  • Comment number 69.

    "Milner is not yet a great player, but he is unquestionably an outstanding one" - surely this is a massvie contradiction, Milner has been one of the top 5 premiership players this season, what does he need to do to prove he is a great player - play for one of the top four? I'd have him ahead of Barry and on current form Gerrard for the world cup squad, people keep saying he's just on a great run of form but how long do you have to be on a good run of form for before your accepted as a great player

  • Comment number 70.

    When people talk of greats, these are the players that will be regarded as legends of their clubs and countries. Shearer, Rush, Harris, Best, Greaves, Banks, Seaman, Henry and the like. In this respect, I don't think Milner is a great yet, but he has many years ahead of him and I see no reason why he cannot graduate if he sticks with Villa and is part of a period of great success for the club. Winning this Cup would be a great start. And yes, he has to be in the england squad.

  • Comment number 71.

    Breaking news - Mark Lawrenson has tipped Stoke to beat Liverpool!!!

  • Comment number 72.

    Am I alone in thinking Rooney is at his best playing at the tip of a midfield diamond? I'd play Defoe and CarltonC up front, JoeC left and Lennon right, with Milner playing in front of Terry, Ferdinand, CashleyC and Johnson, with Hart in goal.

  • Comment number 73.

    Walcott doesn't warrant a place in the England squad on current form but he has half a season to prove his worth. Joe Cole has done nothing since returning from injury apart from a few average games but again he has half a season to prove himself.

    People harp on about Lennon but will he deliver in a big game? Hasn't done so in the Premier League much like his colleague Defoe. Useful against lesser oppositions but tend to go missing against any team above them.

    I'd definitely put Milner and Beckham ahead of Walcott, Lennon and Cole. Beckham has been playing well lately and has plenty of experience.

  • Comment number 74.

    #68 Pulpgrape

    Fair enough. I stand by what I say about this being a worthwhile blog though, even if too many people have got wrapped up the semantics of what is 'great', 'outstanding' or whatever.

    Is Milner playing well, in form, worthy of a place for England? Yes, yes and yes. Will he get better? Probably.

    Good for him, but there are still better players around. English and foreign.

  • Comment number 75.

    The 69 dude is quite correct. When does a good run of form just become how someone plays? Every great player has bad days or bad runs of form, yet they aren't seen as being the norm. Totally agree it is completely to do with hype, had he been playing this well for a top 4 club the praise would be magnified ten-fold and he would be recognised as a good player. It's not the reporter's fault really, they are trying to appeal to the biggest audience possible, and the big 4 represent that really, but also they get swept along on the bandwagon like so many others. It's fortunate that Fabio Capello seems to be a free-thinking man who isn't easily swayed by sensationalistic journalism.

    Through the middle Milner looks a genuine threat for me, great shot on him with either foot and superb movement and a great engine. As a Newcastle fan I always thought we should convert him, a la Rob Lee before him, as his crossing was sometimes wayward and he rarely beat his man. Both have improved this year, but I still think O'Neill may have hit a master-stroke by moving him infield.

  • Comment number 76.

    2. At 08:48am on 15 Jan 2010, Chris Dean wrote:
    "He showed pace, power and stamina to take the ball great distance"

    Pace? Milner? I don't think so! However, power and stamina allied with intelligence and skill will do nicely for England's midfield.

    I think you'll find that James Milner has got quite a lot of pace!

  • Comment number 77.

    56. At 10:46am on 15 Jan 2010, BeyondThePale wrote:

    What. A. Load. Of. Rubbish.

    Are you his mam or something?

    Okay, I'll try again. But I'll say it in more basic terms, just for you.

    "In what world, apart from your own, is 'great' better than 'outstanding'?"

    The English speaking one.

  • Comment number 78.

    Can't you leave off Beckham for one minute? We know you don't rate him. We heard you the other 93 times...

  • Comment number 79.

    72. At 11:19am on 15 Jan 2010, Chris Dean wrote:

    Am I alone in thinking Rooney is at his best playing at the tip of a midfield diamond?


  • Comment number 80.

    Agree with Phil that it would be interesting to see Gerrard play up top with Rooney (perhaps in an upcoming friendly). My worry though, is that it would be a return to the England of old where Rooney is stranded, chasing after thin air. He operates more effectively tucked in behind another striker and is has to be said - Heskey has provided this during a succcessful qualifying campaign. With a quick player stretching play on the right flank and Rooney controlling play - I would be reluctant to change this.

  • Comment number 81.


    Completely agree, of course there are better players around but lets not forget he is still only 24. He played for my team Swindon when he was just 16 and has come on a lot since then.


    Anyone that tips Liverpool for a win faces ridicule so that's no surprise. Right Phil?

  • Comment number 82.

    As an English student and Aston Villa fan reading this blog this morning, i was a little disappointed by it. There is the point that has already been made about him not being "great" but being "outstanding" (landed yourself in a bit of pickle there Phil!) But also because, if anyone has actually paid any attention to what Martin O'Neill is like as a manager, then you will know that he is one of the most enthusiastic, emotional and hungry managers in European football. If anyone has seen Aston Villa play since he's been in charge, they might have noticed that he hardly ever sits down. He's kicking and heading every ball on the touchline and encouraging his team throughout the game. Baring all this in mind, O'Neill does praise his players quite generously, as i'm sure people have noticed. Even if Villa haven't played particularly well, he still says that they performed "splendidly" or a word meaning something similar (outstanding perhaps. or maybe even great, eh Phil?) O'Neill speaks his mind and calling Milner a "great player" and standing by his comments, surely this is "great" management by showing confidence in the player and he knows Milner performs under pressure.

  • Comment number 83.

    Once again most people on here take it as an invite to take a pop at Phil. Dear me.

    However, he is right. Milner is not yet a great player, but could be. He is playing well at the moment and if the WC squad was picked tomorrow, he would be on the plane.

  • Comment number 84.

    I find it a little odd that people are talking about Milner being a "certainty" for the World Cup and assume this is based on the fact that he can be a utility player, providing cover right across the midfield in the way that Hargreaves previously did.

    However, I assume his preferred position would be right wing where he must be behind both Lennon and Walcott in terms of ability, and that's before you factor in the fact that Beckham appears to be undroppable.

    On the left, you could perhaps make a case for having Milner as the backup for Joe Cole but,personally, I prefer Ashley Young who has more pace, a priceless commodity at international level.

    That leaves the centre of midfield, where Milner is a novice. Gerrard, Lampard, and Barry are genuine squad certainties, and you'd want a holding midfielder, so perhaps Carrick? That leaves Milner right on the fringes of a squad place rather than a certainty ...

  • Comment number 85.

    81. At 11:36am on 15 Jan 2010, PulpGrape wrote:

    Anyone that tips Liverpool for a win faces ridicule so that's no surprise. Right Phil?


  • Comment number 86.

    phil, playing gerrard in behind rooney isnt going to happen because capello knows theyre too similar. Milners performance last night was very good as it has been for much of this season and he should not only be on the plane to SA but a contender for a starting position if he continues like this.

    your beloved gerrard however has seriously struggled with injury and form this year and i trust capello not to use players who are not 100% fit so it will be interesting to see how things pan out come june

  • Comment number 87.

    Finally, a blog on an Aston Villa related subject.

    Milner is having a very good season and he can be compared to David Platt, a brilliant player for Villa but not a world ‘great’. Platt had no obvious outstanding attributes, couldn’t beat a man, lacked real pace, he just did everything to a very high standard and it is these ‘reliable’ players England need alongside the few rare gems we do have if this summer is to be a success.

    Milner will go to the World Cup, probably not as one of the 2 right wingers (Lennon, Beckham – Walcott is terrible at the moment as my Arsenal supporting friend reminds me). Even if Joe Cole goes as understudy to Gerrard there is still a place for Milner in the squad whereas Young and Downing are fighting Joe Cole for that position.

    Villa have beaten top teams and lost to them but hasn’t everyone else this season. Villa beat Chelsea but it’s because ‘Chelsea didn’t play well’, how about giving Villa credit for stopping them playing. Villa ‘blew the chance to move into 3rd place’ against Arsenal, on the day Arsenal were better and took their chances, it happens.

    This was a truly outstanding blog Phil, not great but outstanding though with the hyperbole around it is almost legendary.

  • Comment number 88.

    To PulpGrape...I have willingly taken the ridicule on the chin many times for my Liverpool title prediction. I was wrong. So were a few others mind you.

    And I was only having a laugh with MrBlueBurns as he has been one of my fiercest critics and we always try to keep it civilised on here.

    And to MartinRichardson...There is a difference between an outstanding footballer and a great one in my opinion. Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Torres and others I am sure you will name are great players. To me an outstanding player is someone who - and this is a clunky phrase I know - occupies the ground between being very good and great.

    For instance, I would say players like John Terry and Jamie Carragher are outstanding players, but are they truly great? I am not so sure and I suspect they might agree with that themselves. I am sure there are plenty of other examples. Nemanja Vidic has been an outstanding player for Manchester United, but is he a great one? Not for me.

    We should also remember these words are being used in a footballing context - a context where the word "great" is vastly over-used. And after today rest assured I will think at least twice before committing it to print.

    A few questioning the form of Steven Gerrard when set against that of Milner, and I think I have made it very clear in the past what I think of Gerrard here. Now he is a great player, beyond question.

    And that does not stop me admitting that he has been well below his own high standards this season, which must be a slight worry for Fabio Capello. I have wondered all season whether he has been fully fit because of a lingering groin injury. Also has he just been dragged down by the decline of Liverpool?

    He is out for another two weeks now, and Liverpool and England will hope he comes back refreshed.

    Now - back to Milner and the definition of a "great" player. Let me hear what you think makes a great player. And name me player you think are outstanding...but do not qualify as great.

    And for those Villa fans who seem to think I have taken against Milner, read the blog once more. I am not sure I could have praised him any more, unless I was Martin O'Neill obviously.

  • Comment number 89.

    Just two definitions here.

    Great -remarkable or out of the ordinary

    Outstanding - distinguished from others in excellence.

    They're pretty much the same thing. So I'd suggest Milner's neither great or outstanding. He's good, don't get me wrong. But would you argue he's one of the top ten players in the world in his position? That's a great or outstanding player.

  • Comment number 90.

    Milner's a very good player. I'm not convinced he'll become a 'great' player, but I think he'll be a regular international squad player and a very good Premiership player.

  • Comment number 91.

    So Phil McNulty now picks the team for Capello? Oh wait, I forgot, this is no longer the McLaren regime where the press picked the players and look where we ended up!

    For people who make their living writing about football, shockingly few of them would actually succeed as managers... which is why unsucessful managers end up 'commentating' and we are inundated with all those infuriating and inane 'i know it all' comments

  • Comment number 92.

    @88 Phil

    So your definition of a great player is one who scores buckets of goals. That's a great goalscorer.

  • Comment number 93.

    So how is Gerrard a great player beyond question? This is all a bit confusing and you seem to be making this all up as you go along Phil not to mention the fact that you imply your definitions (whatever they are) are the correct ones.

    Gerrard has been an outstanding player at Liverpool yes, especially considering the mediocrity that has surrounded him in recent seasons but what makes him a great?

  • Comment number 94.

    What's the difference between outstanding and great?!?!

    Outstanding means something marked by superiority or distinction. Great means wonderful; first rate; very good.

    Your article makes no sense...again.

  • Comment number 95.


    you can't criticise Martin for hyperbole over his use of the word "great" in the same article when you describe Milner running "a great distance" to score.

    in no circumstances, except perhaps for a slug, is the length of a football pitch a "great" distance

  • Comment number 96.

    Obviously the terms outstanding and great are open to interpretation so there's no right or wrong answer here. What I think people are objecting to Phil (including myself) is how you are imposing your opinions as if they are fact eg statements such as "Gerrard is a great player beyond question"). No Phil, you BELIEVE he's a great player, I don't BELIEVE he is so actually the whole statement of Gerrard being great is actually questionable. I'm afraid you haven't been elected as a voice for the footballing people, it's all about opinions and in particular our freedom to express them as individuals.

  • Comment number 97.

    Imo calling Milner a utility player is dangerous although he can cover different midfield positions the fact is Milner is a very good midfielder who has two good feet gets through a ton of work chips in with goals and gets up and down the pitch. No jack of all trades ever becomes a great player, good players maybe. If he keeps doing what he does for Villa he has a big future ahead as long as he remembers he is a wide midfield player. As for Young and Agbonlahor both have pace and on there day can be match winners but for me both are erratic and inconsistent and just dont control a football the way Milner does. Both Walcott and Lennon who is improving are also far to wastefull to have a major impact in a world cup tournament and its this reason why i would still include Beckham who as a player we know exactly what he gives a team.

  • Comment number 98.

    I have just been reminded by someone that Martin O'Neill also compared Ashley Young to Lionel Messi last season. Now that is hyperbole taken to its extreme. Did he really say that? I must admit I recall something along those lines.

  • Comment number 99.

    Now - back to Milner and the definition of a "great" player. Let me hear what you think makes a great player. And name me player you think are outstanding...but do not qualify as great.


    I think things could get a bit confusing here Phil! 'Great' and 'outstanding', by their very definition, I think will generally mean very similar things to people and are too close to have much difference.

    Taken from the Cambridge online dictionary:

    Outstanding - 'excellent; clearly very much better than what is usual'
    Great - 'very good'

    I think the question should include the old 'world-class' comparison:

    World-class: 'Someone or something world-class is one of the best that there are of that type in the world'

  • Comment number 100.

    I think people's support for their team and even in some cases their age, clouds their judgement in this debate!
    A great player (for me) is someone that people will talk about long after the player retires.

    C.Ronaldo for example, he is a great player and people from around the world will talk about him for decades to come!

    Im sure only Villa supporters will talk about Milner after he retires.

    Thats the difference for me.


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