• Midfielder started only 12 league games last season
• Gives himself six months to become first-team regular
James Milner’s future at Manchester City is unlikely to be resolved until the end of the year at the earliest. The England international is minded to see whether he can force his way into Manuel Pellegrini’s starting XI on a more regular basis before deciding whether to sign a new deal with the Premier League champions or join one of their rivals.
With Milner in the final 12 months of his contract at City, the 28-year-old is in a strong position and there are several leading Premier League clubs, including Arsenal and Liverpool, interested in signing him. However, he is settled in Manchester and in an ideal world would extend his stay with the club he joined from Aston Villa in a deal worth £26m four years ago. The one thing holding him back from committing to City at the moment is a lack of first-team action – Milner started only 12 league games last season.
In preliminary talks at the end of last season, City suggested that there was a four-year deal on the table and stressed that he was a valued member of the squad. The feeling is that Milner would have put pen to paper if that offer had been made 12 months earlier, when he had featured more frequently in the team, starting half of City’s Premier League games. But City delayed and Milner was not inclined to sign after a season when he was a bit-part player under Pellegrini.
It is understood that neither Milner nor his representatives asked to see what figures City had in mind when they proposed the new contract before the World Cup finals, such is the player’s desire to base his decision purely on football.
Milner will be 29 in January and, although he feels at home at City and loves playing for the club, the bottom line is that he wants to be sure that he spends the next few years of his career on the pitch. City are believed to be sympathetic to Milner’s position.
As things stand, City are not looking to offload him and the player has no intention of angling for a move. There is a queue of clubs ready to take Milner but he wants to have a crack at convincing Pellegrini that he is worth a place in the team. He is due to return to pre-season training on Thursday, after being given an extended break following his time away with England at the World Cup, and it is anticipated that he will hold talks with the manager during the coming weeks to discuss his situation and the new campaign.
At this stage all the indications are that Milner will use the first half of the season to see if he can play his way into the starting XI. If he succeeds in doing so, the midfielder is likely to sign a new contract with City. If nothing changes and opportunities remain limited, he will explore other options and is expected to leave at the end of the season, when he would be a particularly attractive free transfer.
He will be free to sign a pre-contract agreement with an overseas club in January, although the more likely scenario if he chooses to leave the Etihad Stadium is that he will remain in the Premier League. Liverpool and Arsenal have made inquiries and would be leading contenders to sign him. One possibility that has been ruled out, because it is seen as being in neither City’s nor Milner’s interests, is a loan move – something that Aston Villa had explored.