***UPDATE 2***: Aston Villa have issued an official statement regarding the £20million offer from Manchester City. It doesn't quite say "piss off", but close. Looks like no discussions will happen until after the World Cup. Let's all sleep easy tonight, shall we?
***UPDATE***: Sky Sports tells us that City have officially bid for James Milner. Initial bid of 20 million pounds, could be increased to 25 million. The offer is 'on the boardroom table'. Don't freak out. Story here.
According to multiple sources (look! here's one now!) Manchester City have made a bid for the services of James Milner, reportedly in the neighborhood of £20million. This isn't exactly surprising; Milner has been on the radar of quite a few teams since he was shifted to the center and Manchester City can generally be thought to be in the market for any high-profile transfer targets as a virtue of owning their own mint.
Randy Lerner is on record as saying that he expects Milner to remain at Villa and I am more than willing to take him at his word. He's clearly emotionally invested in the club emotionally as well as financially. He is also smart enough to recognize what kind of signal selling one of your team's best players on the heels of a breakout season is likely to send to the fans. Lerner does not speak publicly a great deal, but when he does so he has generally been rather straightforward and tends to avoid generic statements and the cliches generally favored by the owners of major sports teams. I'm generally skeptical of the statements made by the owners of the teams I support, but Randy Lerner has given me no reason to not believe him. I honestly believe he does not plan to move James Milner and I similarly believe that James Milner will be with Aston Villa come August.
The reality of the situation, however, is that all players have a finite monetary value to their club. If Milner played for Wigan or Hull City, his ticket out of town would almost certainly be punched by now, as the value of his transfer fee would likely be higher than his value to the club. And while the point at which that would become true for Aston Villa is certainly quite a bit higher, that ceiling does exist. £20million isn’t especially close I wouldn’t think, but that’s certainly just Manchester City’s opening salvo; depending on how serious they are and how the transfer market unfolds, that number could increase, and by a not-insignificant margin.
I will not pretend to know what James Milner's monetary value to Aston Villa is; aside from the value of his services and performance on the pitch important considerations, but the emotional impact of his sale on the fanbase, the transfer cost of players at positions of need, his level of contentedness at Villa, and numerous other factors come into play as well. What I do know is that it is certainly conceivable that James Milner could be sold this off-season and the net value to the club could very well be a positive one.
I absolutely adore James Milner, and this opinion is quite contrary to the one I held about six months ago. He has won me over in every sense, through his talent, his drive, his pace and his promise. He is my favorite player in the sport and were he to depart it would be exceptionally difficult for me to come to terms with.
With that being said, his presence is nowhere near as important as the success of the club. If James Milner is sold, to Manchester City or any other club, it will be because MON and/or Randy Lerner believe it to be in the best interests of Aston Villa. Should that come to pass I will certainly evaluate that decision based upon its merits, but I will not dismiss out of hand the process that leads to it being made.
I don't want James Milner to leave and I do not believe that he will, but if he does it is evidence of nothing other than a calculated risk on the part of Villa's management. Villa supporters need to stop buying in to the belief that they are a small club destined to be pushed around by the rest of the league; top teams sell top players all the time, and Villa have far too much momentum to cash in the chips now.
It is understandable and indeed admirable to be skeptical of the actions of those in control of the squad, but to be cynical is a waste of energy and emotion. Assuming that the sale of Milner (or, at the risk of being right on the nose, of any player of consequence) equates to a lack of commitment in and of itself is to miss the forest for the trees. Those in control of the club have done nothing to lead the supporters to believe that they are not committed to winning, and this should be kept in mind all summer long.