England have had some great set-piece takers over recent years. None were better than David Beckham. Steven Gerrard was also top class. Going back further there was John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne.
And now James Milner? Really? Surely the current England team have somebody better equipped to be on dead-ball duty? Here are two poor examples from last night’s 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley.
England 2-0 Estonia: Sterling goal video & player ratings – Chelsea & Man U men impress, Barkley MOTM
These deliveries were just two of a handful of flighty crosses that made easy pickings for the Estonia goalkeeper. Set pieces need to be whipped in flatter and at a faster pace to ask questions of defences.
This is not aimed to be a slight against the Liverpool midfielder, whose technical competence is often unfairly overlooked because of his reputation as a workhorse and a utility man.
But it is a sad indictment of the current England team that the 29-year-old is Roy Hodgson’s version of Beckham; or our answer to Cristiano Ronaldo or Wesley Sneijder from across Europe.
Milner is clearly a senior figure within Hodgson’s ranks. The 57-cap international is one of five players, alongside Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and fitness doubts Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, being left at home for Monday’s final Euro 2016 qualifier in Lithuania, as The Telegraph reports.
But his seniority does not entitle him to take charge of set-piece duties, as he also did in the victory over Switzerland last month, if there are alternatives such as Ross Barkley who could do a better job.
These finer details will not be decisive in games against the likes of Estonia – who offered no threat to England’s 100% Group E record, but the Three Lions will need every weapon they can get in France.
Picture the scenario; England’s quarter-final with Germany is level at 1-1 when a free-kick is awarded 25 yards from goal, just left of centre, Manuel Neuer to beat. Step up Milner? I don’t think so.
Theo Walcott goal video: Arsenal star strengthens bid for striking place with England goal
Santi Cazorla goal video: Plus match report as Spain qualify with 4-0 win over Luxembourg
James Milner Liverpool wages: 12 other overpaid players, with Chelsea, Man United & Arsenal stars