Versatility is a word Villa fans hear often when James Milner is discussed. He has played as a traditional winger, as central midfield and as emergency fill-in on the right back. This season, after Downing returned to full fitness, he was slotted into left wing and Milner moved into center midfield. While watching a game, though, we still see him playing wide while still managing to patrol that middle ground.
What is apparent to me when watching Milner is that his brain is engaged, which I don't always sense with all the Villans. Even though this is the same man who managed to injure himself on his front stoop, while in a match his mind seems to be working. I never find myself yelling, "Where the hell was Milner?!?" and pounding on the bar like I do with certain other players not to be named at this time.
Combine his abilities to anticipate the next move with his admirable work ethic and yes, we have versatility in Milner. But do we have the new English left-back, as has been suggested since Ashley Cole was injured on Wednesday? When a very smart man mentioned Milner playing right-back to me a couple weeks ago, I confess I choked a bit on my beer. Now, I don't believe he anticipated that Cole would get injured, especially since he's a Chelsea fan, but now the question is out here--can Milner play left back?
Villa supporters, however, are conflicted--we have Stephen Warnock, after all, as our regular left-back, so how do we push for Milner? Warnock doesn't seem to get much attention as he does what he does well without a lot of flash. As has been mentioned in nearly every post about Warnock filling in, he has only played eight minutes for England, although he did get a call up for for a friendly against Brazil earlier this year.
Warnock is solid at left back. While even a Villa fan can tell he's no Ashley Cole, he is certainly able to slot in and play strong defense, focusing on that task and doing it well. What James gives us is--here's that word--versatility. If he were to take the role, I think he'd be a bit more fearless, moving forward and pressing. Yet what we see at Villa is that keeping a stable defense does work, even if it is sometimes irritating to watch.
So who should it be, Milner or Warnock at left back? I'm leaning toward Warnock, giving England a strong anchor in that left corner. But why stop there? Let's put Milner over at the right back, where England is weak. This way we both embrace the versatility and tremendous skills of Milner while using the extremely qualified and able Warnock in his natural position. Plus, extra Villans on the field!
Final note: Why we don't trust Wikipedia--it tries to tell us James Milner is 6'9" or 2.06m (This has since been changed. I like to think it happened thanks to my distressed tweet).
There's no way anyone who has ever watched Villa could believe Milner is that tall.
However when Aaron and I tried to determine how tall he really was, we broke arithmetic and pissed off the Babylonians. And since we really don't want the Babylonians after us, we'll leave it to you to find Milner's height.