This headline might sound curious, preposterous, or downright delusional. Generally speaking a football club with any semblance of ambition does not get better by selling it's best player. However when a rival club is willing to pay above and beyond the player's actual value and throw in a younger player who two years ago was considered better, a club of Villa's means has to do that.
James Milner was unquestionably Aston Villa's player of the season last year. His pace, work-rate, crossing ability, and versatility make him a great fit in Martin O'Niel's preferred 4-4-2. But let's look at Villa's problems last season and ask yourself how does Milner help in any of those areas. Last year Villa's weakness was clearly the lack of goals from the midfield. Last year James Milner scored seven league goals, three on penalties. Hardly making anybody forget Frank Lampard or Michelle Platini.
Aston Villa's other problem the past couple years have been it's inability to break down defenses. Last year not only could Villa not break down Manchester United when they were down to 10 men, but United bossed the game. This can be attributed to a lack of creativity in the first XI. Milner is a strong passer and crosser of the ball, but I don't think anyone would call him a creative force who unlocks opposing defenses. A center midfielder valued in excess of 20 million pounds needs to offer more creativity.
If as has been widely reported that Steven Ireland is included in the transaction he is an improvement in both areas over Milner. When he was City's Player of the Year in the 2008-9 season he scored 9 league goals and 13 in all competitions. Last year due to injuries and City's bloated squad he fell out of favor. If this sounds familiar, it should. Villa purchased Richard Dunne under similar circumstances and his impact was immense. Put Ireland on Villa's squad, put him in the First XI and leave him alone he could very well have a similar renaissance.
As good of a year as Villa had last year there are areas that need to be strengthened and the money generated by the sale will go a long way. I would rather have Ireland, and the rumored additions of Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane, than just Milner. McGeady is a creative winger who will help unlock opposing defenses and give Martin O'Neal added versatility.
They could play McGeady and Stuart Downing on the wing and play Ashley Young as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, as well as giving him an alternative to Downing should the man who has scored 2 league goals the last two years continue not to provide the goals from midfield that Villa are starving for. Robbie Keane finally found some form while on loan at Celtic and has looked good in preseason for Tottenham. Unlike Villa's current strike-force Keane can retrieve the ball from the midfield as opposed to just sitting in the box and waiting for crosses. He also is creative in the final third and can make the pass needed to break opponents down.
This could be the deepest squad of the O'Neil era at Villa Park. Whether or not you believe that Villa need to sell to buy (I think it is exaggerated myself) it is clear Randy Lerner is looking for the club st start to become more self sufficient. The only way Villa can address the problems from last year in a meaningful way is to cash in on Milner. Martin O'Neil realizes this. That explains his comments from last week, he knows for the club to move on he needs the funds that can only come from fleecing the well-heeled sheiks at Eastlands