First things first, as James Milner is keen to point out in the book’s introduction, this is NOT an autobiography, rather, as the title suggests, Milner opens the floor to questions from the Twittersphere, a somewhat brave (or perhaps foolhardy) move, and this book comprises a selection of those questions with Milner’s answers.
Unsurprisingly, the questions included in the book revolve around football, covering everything from breaking through as a youngster to life after the game. There are sections on team-mates, what happens on a matchday and the experience of playing home and away, amongst other topics, but essentially all of the main components of life as a footballer are examined.
Anyone hoping to find Milner’s thoughts on matters outside of the game will be sadly disappointed, but as the full title, Ask a Footballer: My Guide to Kicking a Ball About, makes clear, this isn’t an open-all-areas Q&A. It does seem a shame that a brief chapter wasn’t included at the end for some more miscellaneous questions just for fun, but, on the whole, it’s a welcome premise that the publishers have pursued in this book by granting fans the opportunity to be involved.
Naturally, the questions that are included are generally somewhat predictable and fan questions are accompanied by questions from those involved in the book which clearly ensure that no football-related stone goes unturned, but generally they are the sort of questions that football fans would want to ask given the chance, and what is great about the book is the sense of interaction and access for supporters. There is a lot of criticism nowadays about this side of the game and the divide between fans and players, so this book is a pleasing antidote and there’s definitely much more of a sense of engagement and interaction than your typical sporting autobiography.
As for Milner himself, he is unquestionably a good sport for agreeing to the project, although in many ways he’s a rather safe choice – I’m not sure such a book would be possible with a number of Milner’s former team-mates, for example, Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy or Mario Balotelli! And Milner’s clearly well placed to be a spokesman on all things football, having played in the Premier League for almost two decades now and in that time witnessing the revolution that has virtually changed the face of football into the professional machine that it is now.
In his time, Milner has played for Leeds United, Swindon Town, Aston Villa, Manchester City and his current team Liverpool and has experienced the lows of relegation as well as the highs of FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League glory. In many ways an underrated and oftentimes overlooked player in teams which have boasted the likes of world-beaters such as Aguero and Salah, Milner has been a model of consistency and reliability. Off the pitch, Milner, too, seems to be as far removed as it’s possible to be from the pretensions of fame, which has inspired the emergence of the infamous ‘Boring James Milner’ caricature.
Indeed, there is nothing explosive or controversial about Milner (although fans of former clubs may say otherwise, he’s hardly a disruptive or unruly influence in the way that other footballers have made a name for themselves), so, unsurprisingly, there is nothing explosive or controversial in this book. As Milner himself explains, he was often the go-to player in the England camp, put out in front of the media to straight-bat away any difficulties.
As such, his answers in the book are all very straightforward and safe. Even when the questions enter slightly more precarious territory, Milner’s answers are always restrained, somewhat frustratingly often not naming names or giving more detail than is necessary. But, on the other hand, his answers are also considered and honest.
Milner’s professionalism and reliability shine through in this book. It’s clear that he’s the ultimate professional, as his eighteen seasons in the top flight prove, and certainly anyone wanting to know what it takes to achieve success at the top of the game need look no further than Milner and his answers in this book. However, anyone wanting the dirt on the beautiful game, or the alternative side to being a professional footballer, may just have to wait to see if the publisher chooses to roll out the project again. Are you free Mr Balotelli?