Back in August, England were in the midst of a grim Euro 2016 post-mortem. The national side had been bounced out of the tournament in humiliating fashion, manager Roy Hodgson’s contract was, um, not renewed, and Sam Allardyce had agreed to a two-year term which he would not complete. At the time, Liverpool’s own Swiss Army Knife James Milner, who had been part of Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad but hardly played in France, decided to retire from international duty and make way for what he felt was a promising cadre of young English midfielders. And also for Jack Wilshere.
Despite the timing of Milner’s decision, it was hardly a knee-jerk reaction. Milner had been something of a victim of his own versatility, performing adequately enough in a number of roles that a manager such as Hodgson would reasonably be enamored of the player’s versatility, but without the eye-catching performances that might have led to a sustained run in a starting XI. It was also a decision that was made after speaking with new England boss Sam Allardyce, who presumably confirmed some of Milner’s suspicions about prospective playing time.
What a difference a couple of months makes. 30-year-old Milner has settled into the left back position like a natural, helping propel Liverpool’s early momentum. Elsewhere, the Football Association are, shockingly, once again searching for a new England manager while Gareth Southgate keeps the seat warm. Naturally, the question came up in the wake of Liverpool’s victory over Swansea City as to whether England supporters might expect a change of heart from Milner.
The response was a classic Milnerian “nope.”
“I think I made the decision at the time that was best for everyone. I am also playing left-back at the moment and there are a number of very good left-backs who would be ahead of me.
I think it is still the right decision. It is massively disappointing for Sam because he did a good job, but Gareth did well with the U21s and will have a lot of respect from the players.”
So there you have it. Milner will continue to focus on his club - welcome news for Liverpool supporters for whom every international break is an occasion for fear and trembling - and England will once again hope their next major tournament run doesn’t go to penalties.