James Milner has become an unobtrusive mainstay for England.
At 25 the Manchester City midfielder ought to have struck the ideal balance between knowhow and stamina. While his £25m price when he left Aston Villa last summer reflects the special Eastlands tariff imposed on a wildly affluent club, he is valued and his inclusion in the national team is virtually expected.
As his standing rises, so too will the demands placed upon Milner. Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier with Wales at the Millennium Stadium poses a particular problem to which he could be part of the answer. The manager, Fabio Capello, has to think about how he will check the one-man onslaught that Gareth Bale can mount on the left.
There is more than one approach and, if England are feeling bold, they may simply attempt to keep the opposition pinned down. However, the adaptable Milner could switch wings from recent outings with his country and put himself in the path of Bale. His cost may have been great when he joined City but Capello's own valuation of Milner is also high.
The Italian has to look to the rising generation. In midfield he lacks the injured Steven Gerrard at present and Frank Lampard was out of action with a groin problem for over three months in the first half of this season. Gerrard has looked vulnerable at times but reflection on the prospects for these footballers also involves the fact that they are beyond their 30th birthday.
It is unlikely that Milner will ever be mentioned in the same terms as either of them. There must be ambivalence, for instance, about the uncanny record that led to him making 49 appearances with the England Under-21s over five years before he first played for Capello's team in August 2009. He may, of course, have suffered from the curse of versatility that stops a player from defining himself in one specific job.
On a more prosaic level Milner has been hindered of late by hamstring trouble and his outing for Manchester City against Chelsea last weekend was his first start since mid-February. If a chance now presents itself to entrench himself even more deeply in the national team, he had better be ready to take it. Having made his debut for Leeds United in 2002, when he was a mere 16-year-old, Milner must be wholly familiar with the realities of the profession.
After such extended service, he seems unconcerned about the volume of matches. "I've been fortunate enough to be playing first-team football for nine or 10 years and you get used to playing that many games. You would rather be playing a lot of games than none at all. I've been champing at the bit wanting to come back over the last few weeks, so I'd rather play three games a week than be sat watching. It means you are doing well in the league and cups. I'm sure we would rather have it that way."
City are indeed in the FA Cup semi-finals, where they will be pitted against Manchester United, but it is tricky to calculate what would represent a good return for a club where the investment in players and their wages has been vast. The club stands fourth in the Premier League but the possibility of taking part in the Champions League is clouded by the close pursuit of Tottenham Hotspur.
Any strain seems to have been absorbed by the manager, Roberto Mancini, since Milner did not look at all anxious over that issue. "We're still on course," he said. Where the Premier League title is concerned, Milner dismisses the thought that City ought to be contenders now. "It is going to take time," he said. "You learn how to play with each other, get that bond and move forward. I think it will come and we will get better and better. We have the biggest scope to improve out of any team in the league.
"As a club and team and group of players you have got to learn how to deal with that expectation. The club has changed dramatically compared to a few years ago. I think you learn how to deal with that pressure of all eyes on you, people wanting to knock you down. That is what happens when you are at the top and want to be at the top. You want to play for the best teams and challenge for trophies, you want to be under pressure. That means that you are up there."
There is to be unease, as well, in Cardiff, where his former Newcastle United team-mate Craig Bellamy will be in the Wales line-up.
For a relatively young player, Milner has roamed while turning out for five clubs, including a stint on loan at Swindon. It has been an extended journey already but the moment has arrived when he will be asked to climb high with England.
Bale out: How to stop Wales's main weapon
The right way
Tottenham 1 Everton 1 23 Oct 2010
Everton were forewarned from Tottenham's first game against Inter and played a deep line, meaning there was no space behind Phil Neville, negating Gareth Bale's pace advantage. Seamus Coleman's defensive instincts meant he could cover Bale if he dropped deep, allowing Neville to retain his position. With Benoît Assou-Ekotto rarely venturing forward, Coleman was often able to double up on Bale, who did not once find a team-mate with a pass in the box.
Enjoying little change from Neville and Coleman down the left, Bale was forced to roam elsewhere on the pitch in an attempt to offer an attacking outlet, as shown by the touch map on the right
The wrong way
Tottenham 3 Inter 1 2 Nov 2010
Even in their return match, Inter did not learn. It would be easy to criticise Maicon – just two of seven attempted tackles were successful while Bale completed 33 of 44 passes and set up two goals – but others share the blame. Maicon perhaps felt the best attack was defence, and looked to drive Bale back. But with no cover from Jonathan Biabiany – who not only did not double up on Bale but allowed Assou-Ekotto to join the attack – or Javier Zanetti, he was left exposed.
Bale's touch map shows how he was able to cause havoc down the left flank with the space in behind Inter's Maicon. He consistently attacked in that area and rarely came inside
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