Boring Milner, Destroyer Of Perception...

He's hardworking, perhaps even underrated but, most of all, he'll always be boring James Milner. Not anymore, says Matt Stanger, amid talk of Milner playing the perfect hand...

Last Updated: 20/05/14 at 15:34 Post Comment

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In a list of the least fascinating Premier League footballers, James Milner must come close to the top. To some, that might be seen as a bad thing, but England's Mr Reliable is about as likely to be involved in a scandal as Joey Barton is to avoid one. While the talents and personalities of his peers are debated at length, this is a player who commands only one conversation. He's hardworking, perhaps even underrated but, most of all, he'll always be boring James Milner.

In an age when top-flight footballers are multi-dimensional figures of love and hate, Milner has remained a mystery. The use of that word is jarring, but how much do you actually know about a man who recently celebrated his second title with Manchester City? He's been around forever but rarely has his story been told. In truth it is a unique tale, with Milner both an anachronism whose personality disappears when he leaves the pitch, but also a prime example of the power of perception in the modern game. Almost everything we know about him is conjecture.

It's amusing conjecture too, which makes it all the more compelling. The Boring Milner parody account on Twitter is the most successful of its kind through the invention of a dull character discordant with football's drama. 'Manuel Pellegrini was upset that we drew. I said 'Don't be sad, it's a marathon not a sprint.' He said 'That is a very good point, James' is just one of many enjoyable anecdotes that haven't just filled in the gaps of Milner's persona, but composed his entire identity.

The success of @BoringMilner is founded on the prevalence of the idea that Milner is, well, boring, which is a strange view to hold of someone we know little about. But nowadays it seems compulsory to have an opinion on everything and everyone and, in the case of someone who is reluctant to tell us who he really is, we've been happy to create an image for him. Curiously, it is inextricable from his playing role. Milner is personified by his duties on the pitch more than any of his colleagues; doing the dirty work equals a dour disposition, the utility man who'd be installing home utilities had he not become a footballer.

However, on Monday this perception was dealt an irrevocable blow. Suddenly, the real James Milner got interesting. Suddenly, his parody account of some 230,000 followers had to take a back seat as its inspiration popped up on the Twitter trends bar above Michael Jackson - the King of Pop dethroned by a man whose alter ego celebrated City's title victory with eight cups of tea until the room started spinning.

The rumours of Milner's demand to leave Manchester City emphasise the rise in power of homegrown players, owing to their mandatory inclusion in Premier League and Champions League squads. That Milner has immediately been linked to Arsenal and Liverpool is not only an endorsement of his ability, but a sign of his necessity. To comply with the rules, clubs competing at the top of the game need an 'Englishman', and there are few more useful than Milner.

But this story stretches far deeper than another example of player power. Before Monday, we had what we think we knew; now we only know what we think. Despite convincing ourselves that Milner is a person we understand, a dependable figure in a game that is constantly changing, the ventriloquist is now more interesting than his Twitter dummy. There is even talk that Milner could become one of the highest-paid players at City, playing the perfect hand with only one year left on his contract.

Before Monday, the only thing for which Milner had ever served as an example was the need for pasty white Englishmen to wear factor 40 on their holidays. But now he is both a forebearer for the potential impact of homegrown rules as well as the destroyer of perception, the thing that drives daily discussion of the game's characters who, once upon a time, were merely footballers and nothing more.

Milner has remained resolutely uninteresting for 12 years of an illustrious career, but his main event is far more fascinating than most stories churned out by players who are happy to have their name in the media on a weekly basis. It's time to forget everything you think you know about football, because next season James Milner could be earning £200,000 a week for the champions. Try explaining that one, Boring Milner.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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