He’s the Steve Davis of soccer. A superstar with his head screwed on.
AMID all the hoopla surrounding this week’s naming of teenager Marcus Rashford and a couple of Leicester City’s surprise title winners in the England squad for this summer’s European Championships, there was one name that slipped under the radar.
But then that’s to be expected. The sight of one James Philip Milner in the line-up for the fourth tournament in a row (at least the ones England has qualified for anyway) is not about to provoke fanfares or a mass outbreak of fevered expectation.
These days fans and pundits alike tend to skim over it, at the most permitting themselves a cursory nod of acceptance.
They know – we all know – that the lad from Leeds is unlikely to set the football stage alight.
He won’t skate past half the Russian team for a Michael Owen-esque wonder goal.
The chances of him pulling off a Paul Gascoigne impression with an inch-perfect Cruyff turn as he slaloms his way into the Welsh penalty box are slim to non-existent.
But there is a quiet appreciation too – at least among the more informed of England supporters – for what he will give you.
Total commitment and rock steady dependability are not to be sniffed at. Nor is the Yorkshire grit to keep going when the odds – as they always seem to be for the Three Lions – are so heavily stacked against us.
On the day the squad was announced, I contacted the James Milner Foundation, the charity set up by the unsung 30-year-old to do good work in local communities.
My thinking was that this quiet man of football was unlikely to blow his own trumpet but might just be coaxed out of his shell for a chat to get some publicity for his charity.
So far I’ve heard nothing. But that’s hardly a surprise.
Away from the football field, Milner has never been one to put himself in the public eye.
In the age of the showy footballer with more money than sense (have you seen the Michael Jackson-themed bar Raheem Sterling had installed in his house?) Milner is a welcome throwback to another era. The solid professional who lives for his sport and has little time for the circus that surrounds it.
He’s the Steve Davis of soccer. A superstar with his head screwed on. At Horsforth School he was a first-class student, leaving with 11 GCSEs and an award for PE.
Even when he fulfilled his dream of being taken on as a trainee by his beloved Leeds United, for whom he had once proudly performed ballboy duties, he refused to get carried away.
His father Peter suggested he should still attend college once a week to continue his education and he readily agreed, later explaining that he didn’t want to think that he “had already made it”.
His feet have remained firmly on the floor ever since. While the tabloids feast on photos of the Premier League’s big names in compromising positions with women, drink or dubious substances, Milner has never so much as touched a drop of alcohol.
All this common sense comes with a price, of course. Milner is boring, bleat those who rate the nation’s footballers according to the exclusiveness of the nightclub they have just been kicked out of.
It’s a view fed by an admittedly witty parody Twitter account – @ BoringMilner – which pretends to be the Liverpool midfielder tweeting out statements that are breathtaking in their mundanity. It has half a million followers.
Many overly sensitive sportsmen – I’m looking at you, Kevin Pietersen – would get the hump. Milner happily filmed a video of himself reading them out.
Last night he played in a European cup final and will soon jet off to represent his country in another major tournament.
If England do somehow pull off a Leicester City-sized miracle, it’s likely that his quiet assurance and absence of ego will play a sizeable part. And maybe then this quiet man of football will finally get the credit he deserves.
Leeds, capital of cock-ups
JUST what is going on with Leeds transport planning at the moment?
First Follybus was put out of its misery, then a few days later an expert was slapping a public health warning on the so-called “super cycleway” between here and Bradford.
It’s galling to think how many tens of millions have been spent on these two schemes – not to mention the doomed Supertram project that bit the dust a decade ago.
Trolleybus looked a non-starter from the word go. There were justifiable concerns about its impact on buildings and the environment, while crucially there was no proof it would have actually cut congestion.
No one comes out of this sorry episode looking good.
Leeds City Council say they were told by the then Labour government that it was the only scheme they would fund after Supertram got the chop.
But the flaws highlighted by the planning inspector who axed it should have been glaringly obvious at an early stage, with the council then shaming the Government into a rethink.
As for the cycleway, it was a laudable idea that appears to have been let down by shoddy execution.
Far from reinventing Leeds as a bike friendly city and encouraging people to get on two wheels, an independent expert has branded it a danger to cyclists and pedestrians. So much so he doubts if people will actually use it.
You really couldn’t make it up.
How to dodge Facebook stress
DR Mike Scanlan, who runs ‘stress busting’ courses for people in Leeds, says one of the biggest causes of anxiety is Facebook.
I can well believe it. It’s hard not to log on and immediately start comparing your life with the ones your friends seem to be leading.
Whether they’re off on holiday, enjoying a night out or just posing happily with their scarily well-behaved kids, it can quickly make you feel your own life is decidedly second-rate.
And for all its great points that’s the big problem with social media – it provides the perfect stage for those who love nothing more than showing off.
So when I see my mates sunning themselves abroad or parading some new expensive bit of kit I try and remember I’m comparing my behind-the-scenes with their highlight reel.
And as former US president Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of envy”. In this social media age we need to remember that more than ever.