Posted by Aaron
I tend to pick weird favorites. My favorite baseball players of all time are Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Franklin Gutierrez. If you don't know baseball, they're underrated but flawed players; certainly quite valuable but likely to draw a puzzled look from others when expressing your undying devotion to them. Perhaps this is, at least on a subconscious level, a reason for said devotion; I'm somewhat contrarian by nature, and the inability of others to see how amazing such players are is likely to be at least somewhat responsible for my adoration.
I do not believe it is much of a secret that I have an irrational (at times bordering on unhealthy) love for John Carew. He is the number one reason I started watching Villa often enough to fall in love with the team, and though I have become aware of his favored status amongst large swaths of the fan base, I was not aware of this when I first developed an attachment to him. His hat-trick against Reading made me happier than anything else I have observed watching soccer, and in my eyes (or at least my in-the-moment, completely non-analytical eyes) he is incapable of doing any wrong.
I am also, sadly, a realist; I recognize that John Carew will most certainly be moving on at some point some point sooner than later. It is the nature of fandom that I have had to come to terms with this fact. It won't affect in any way my devotion to Villa, but I will be sad and then I will move on. A small, entirely irrational part of me hopes that he will move on to Rave-Greener pastures, but I digress.
With this in mind, a certain part of my brain has long been on the lookout for a new favorite. No one can ever replace Big John in my heart, but I am an emotional sort when it comes to these types of things and I need someone to focus my energy on, someone above reproach (in the moment at least) someone who brings me joy to watch even when things are at their worst.
I adore plenty of Villans; Ash and Gabby take my breath away with startling regularity. Our back line is the heart of our team and so Dunne, Warnock and Cuellar spend plenty of time in my good graces. My forward-looking self sees Fabian Delph and salivates at what he could become. James Collins is so delightfully goofy and human (and, it doesn't hurt, good) that it's impossible not to love him. But time and again, it's James Milner that I find myself infatuated with.
I didn't really see it turning out this way. For one, there is the aforementioned rooting for the underdog thing, and this most certainly doesn't apply to Milner; the criticism directed his way is typically of the nature of his not living up to (in my mind unrealistic) expectations. He's clearly one of the most gifted and most valuable players on the squad. He's almost certainly going to South Africa (and hey, who knows, he might even get into a match or two!) In addition, I all but hated him for quite a while. I was more than aware of his talent and value to the team and more than happy to have him aboard, but I was also more than willing to make fun of his hair (which, if we are to be honest, is patently ridiculous, although it is less so than it was previously.) In the US, we have a term for people who look like James Milner, and though I will not use said term in deference to those that might find it offensive, I will allude to its having to do with feminine hygiene.
But somewhere along the line, something changed. The things that previously annoyed me became endearing. Instead of grudgingly acknowledging the general brilliance of his play, I came to cherish it. His versatility, his tenacity, his seemingly inexhaustible stamina-he amazes me. Being located where I am and having the privilege to choose the sources that provide me with Villa commentary while remaining blissfully ignorant of those whose opinions aren't worth much, I am not as aware of the pulse of Villa fandom as many others, but I get the impression that there are many that take James Milner for granted. That's a shame. He might not fit the prototype of my usual favorites, but it's not something I'm going to question either.