Manchester City FanZoner Tom Wilkins pays tribute to the club's unsung hero James Milner.
Milner has become Man City's Mr Dependable
As the snow fell on Carrington this week, the players jogged back to the dressing room. Joleon Lescott wore a hat, Jack Rodwell sported gloves while Serbia's Aleksandr Kolarov showed off a rather fetching pair of leggings. In the middle of this scene, James Milner trudged past in a t-shirt and shorts. James Milner doesn't do things for show - City's consummate professional just gets the job done with the minimum of fuss.
James Milner suffered a pretty tough summer. Selected for the England squad and asked to play a role on the right wing, Milner did everything that was requested of him with little fanfare and considerable work-rate. Shuttling up and down the touchline, Milner offered an option in attack, and more importantly, cover for Ashley Cole when he ventured forward.
A journalist, admittedly amusingly, likened Milner to a swimmer doing lengths while a water polo game went on around him. Roy Hodgson recognised the importance of structure while England's fans searched for a scapegoat. Milner fit the bill, and it was no surprise that he was hung out to dry when England's Euro bid inevitably fizzled into failure.
That wasn't the first time that Milner has suffered for his art. Towards the end of City's title winning season, the midfielder played a very limited part in the final outcome, through little to no fault of his own. But while Tevez went off to sulk in Argentina and Balotelli smouldered on the sidelines, not a murmur of discontent was to be heard from James Milner.
For arguing, moaning and bitching is just not in this Yorkshireman's vocabulary. While others demand millions for their agents, James Milner takes representation from the PFA. While others celebrate wins (and defeats) by spending thousands in Panacea, Milner has reportedly never drunk even a sip of alcohol.
And on the pitch, Milner's star is once again on the rise. With a huge transfer fee round his neck, he has often struggled with the tempo kept up by the likes of Silva, Nasri and Aguero. But the quality which saw him thrive at Villa is once again starting to show through, no more so than in City's recent defeat of Arsenal where he delivered a world-class finish to cap a top notch display.
But the midfielder knows that one good performance is unlikely to cement his position in the team. Milner's role at City looks destined to be as a rotation player - the adaptability that makes him so useful to Mancini also the barrier to his long-term happiness.
With Yaya Toure out of the team for the considerable future though and Javi Garcia still struggling to find his feet, the opportunity for Milner to prove himself has never loomed so large. Much of Milner's success at this level has been built on hard work. Just imagine the players that Balotelli or Robinho could have been with Milner's work-rate.
Whether he reaches his true potential at City remains to be seen, but there's a lot the players past and present who could learn a thing or two from James Milner - both on and off the pitch.