Sami Khedira moved to Real Madrid from Stuttgart for a fee rumoured to be £11 million. That was after an impressive 2010 World Cup performance for Germany where he established himself as one of the most promising young midfield enforcers. Mesut Ozil also moved to Real Madrid, from Werder Bremen, for a fee close to £15 million. That was also after an impressive 2010 World Cup where Ozil inspired his team, Germany, to third place, from an advanced midfield position where he scored a couple of vital goals and completed plenty of important offensive passes. These two transfers provide context. Two of the best young midfield players in the world purchased for a combined total of £26 million. How, then, is James Milner worth £26 million individually?
No doubt many will mention the Manchester City premium. This notion suggests that when Manchester City are involved in a transfer the purchase fee is immediately raised because the selling club is aware of the unrestrained budget. This is obviously true.Yet nobody can deny that Real Madrid are also affected by such a premium. Typically Real Madrid have to pay more than a players standard value to buy them. Manchester City also. Therefore this premium can’t be the reason for the huge discrepancy between Ozil, Khedira and Milner’s transfer fees. Obviously the transfer fees were affected by Khedira and Ozil publicly stating they were unwilling to sign a new contract with their previous clubs, meaning Stuttgart and Werder Bremen were always going to eventually lose the players. However James Milner also suggested something similar, although a little less implicitly. Before they moved Khedira and Ozil both had contracts that were within a year of expiring whereas Milner still had a couple of years on his at Aston Villa, although surely that single solitary extra year cannot justify such an inflated fee.
Perhaps it is just that Ozil and Khedira are only half the player that James Milner is. After all, James Milner is one of the youngest ever debutants and goalscorers in the history of the English Premiership. Still, anybody who has seen the trio play would agree that although James Milner might well be the hardest working he is probably the weakest technically. Also whereas Ozil and Khedira thrived at the World Cup in South Africa, their first international tournament, Milner froze on the big stage and had to be substituted off within thirty minutes of his first tournament appearance for England, so bad was his start.
So why exactly is a technically inferior player who has previously frozen and failed to deliver on the biggest stage worth £26 million? Two simple reasons. One – James Milner is English and will help Manchester City develop an English core in their side (essential under current, forthcoming and proposed new rules concerning ‘homegrown’ players). Two – James Milner was coveted. Throughout antiquity we know that when somebody / something is really wanted price is rarely a hindrance. Manchester City had set their sights and were prepared to pay double his value, which is what they ended up doing.
Is James Milner worth £26 million? He is to the people prepared to pay it.