James Milner's hard graft can be England's trump card Milner is no water career. He is a star. But one who is content to allow others to walk the red carpet Richard Williams guardian.co.uk, Saturday 8 September 2012 17.00 EDT Nobody makes a fuss about James Milner, which is exactly how he likes it. As long ago as 2005, when he was still a teenager, he was emphasising how much he appreciated the existence of Wayne Rooney, whose celebrity took the spotlight away from his contemporaries. "I've been able to concentrate on football and ignore everything else," he said back then, and everything we have since learned about him suggests he meant it. Managers love Milner. Most of them, anyway. The exception was Graeme Souness, who remarked during his time at Newcastle United that the club would win nothing with "a team full of James Milners". Souness lasted a season and a half at St James' Park, and his verdict might now be revised to suggest that you stand a better chance of winning something with a James Milner in your team. Against Moldova on Friday night Milner rewarded Roy Hodgson's enthusiasm for his gifts with a typically relevant performance, full of unobtrusive running and useful touches, but also containing a couple of decisive moments. In the third minute he responded to Steven Gerrard's driving run and pass to the right flank with the accurate low cross that invited Tom Cleverley's shot and the subsequent penalty for handball. With a quarter of an hour to go he arrived on the edge of the Moldovan penalty area to offer Theo Walcott an option and to respond with a shot that gave him his first senior international goal. It was his 32nd senior cap, a total that comes as a surprise since Milner is the player who seemed to have got stuck in the under-21s. His 46 appearances at that level set a record that may never be equalled, but such a collection must have come to seem a mixed blessing. Not until August 2009, when he was 23, did he make his senior debut, brought on by Fabio Capello in a friendly against Holland and responding with the cross that enabled Jermain Defoe to score the goal that gave England a 2-2 draw. In Chisinau the eye was drawn to two younger midfield players, Tom Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Both made interesting and at times sparkling contributions, but Milner's was the more fundamental, and he is likely to play a major part in Hodgson's bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Whether he will be guaranteed a starting place is something that probably no longer bothers him. Since his £26m transfer from Newcastle United to Manchester City two years ago he has made 58 appearances in the Premier League, brought off the bench by Roberto Mancini as often as he is invited to start, but his winner's medal is worth as much as those presented to City's more glamorous midfield stars. Like Rooney, who is a couple of months older, he made his league debut at 16, but thereafter their trajectories could hardly have been more different. Rooney bypassed the under-21 stage entirely, fast-tracked into the senior squad by Sven-Goran Eriksson. Oddly, both have commanded a similar transfer fee – Manchester United paid Everton around £24m for Rooney some years earlier – and have made a similar number of Premier League appearances (320 for Rooney, 307 for Milner), but in terms of tabloid column inches there is no comparison to be made. Milner is an all-round sportsman whose versatility enabled him to excel as a sprinter and a cross-country runner during his schooldays. As a footballer he is seen as a workhorse, but one who has been obliged to learn, in the Premier League, to tolerate periods of idleness. He played all 90 minutes of City's 3-2 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield last month, but then found himself sitting on the bench throughout the opening league fixture against Southampton. A few days later he played the first 76 minutes at Anfield, but then only the last eight against Queens Park Rangers. Even when Hodgson gets his injured players back, however, it seems likely that Milner's virtues will continue to give him plenty of opportunities in the England shirt. Like Alan Ball or Steve Coppell, he is one of those players upon whom the mantle of glamour never settles but who give value for every penny of a club's or a supporter's money. The air of unpretentious doggedness is deceptive. Milner is no water career. He is a star. But one who is content to allow others to walk the red carpet, content in the knowledge of a job well done. Just as it was on Friday night, in the less than demanding circumstances, and will be again when the stakes are higher.