James Milner has praised his upbringing at Leeds United for making him the player he is today.
He has made just two starts in 10 games for Roy Hodgson’s men this year, with his bit-part role with the international fold mirroring the role he plays in his club career. Something of a workhorse, he has started just four of Man City’s seven games this season, and, whilst he is heavily praised for his desire and efforts, his talents come under scrutiny when compared alongside his top quality teammates.
With San Marino unlikely to offer much threat, Milner could be forced to sit out, with Hodgson likely choosing to pack the midfield with consistent goalscorers rather than defensive ball-winners, and Milner told the Yorkshire Post that it is frustrating to be constantly overlooked by the international management.
The former Newcastle and Aston Villa man said: “Not playing is frustrating but the England manager has a tough job to do and he picks the best team possible for the team. When I get on the field, all I can do is try and impress the manager enough to play me.
“Playing for your country is a massive honour. There was a time when I was with the Under-21s and it was between me and another player to get into the senior team. And the other player was picked because I could play for the Under-21s.
“So he was picked and that was frustrating as well. I played 46 times for the Under-21s but I would never have turned down playing for the Under-21s because it is playing for England.”
Despite being consistently overlooked, his willingness to always be available for selection is one of the traits that has made him into an unlikely cult hero amongst the England faithful, and Milner - a product of the Thorpe Arch Academy - has claimed that his time with Leeds United is the reason for his professionalism.
“I don’t think I could ever turn my back on my country,” he added.
“I couldn’t finish my career, look back and think, ‘I stopped representing my country and playing for England to have a few extra days off in the international break’.
“But it is disappointing, as you want to play every game. There are, though, two ways to react. You can sulk and mouth off to the press or work harder on the training field and try to force your way in. That is the only way I know how to do it.
“Maybe it is my mum and dad. Plus, coming through at Leeds, I had a very good football education. The senior players had a massive influence on that.
“Doing things the right way, Leeds are a massive part of that. From being there when I was 10-years-old, playing in the first team when I was 16 and leaving at 18. You look back at that time and it all had a massive part in shaping me as a footballer and a character as well.”
Having joined the Leeds Academy as a 10-year-old, Milner became the second youngest player to make an appearance in the Premier League at 16 years and 309 days in 2002. He then went on to hold the record for the youngest ever Premier League goalscorer, although that has since been broken. He left Elland Road in 2004, reportedly unhappy at having been sold, although his career has only ever been on the rise since then - culminating in his current spell with Manchester City.