James Milner is set to fulfil his childhood back garden dreams when he captains England against Netherlands at Wembley on Tuesday.
Liverpool midfielder Milner will win his 58th full international cap, coming into a side buoyant from Saturday’s stunning 3-2 comeback win over world champions Germany in Berlin.
“It means everything,” he told a pre-match news conference. “Growing up you’re desperate to pull on that England shirt – you’re scoring goals for England at Wembley in your back garden.
“To lead the team out at Wembley is a massive honour and something you’ll never forget.”
Milner will be leading a side surrounded by a feel good factor rarely associated with his time in the national team, since a debut against the Dutch in Amsterdam in August 2009.
The former Aston Villa and Manchester City man now finds himself as a senior man in Roy Hodgson’s group and was particularly impressed with the composure the younger players showed in adversity against Germany.
“I think it’s exciting times,” he said. “The squad has changed massively since I came into it, with guys like Becks [David Beckham], Rio [Ferdinand], Stevie G [Steven Gerrard], JT [John Terry] and Lamps [Frank Lampard].
“Now I’m one of the older guys with all this young talent coming through.
“We’ve heard over the past few years that English football is in trouble, with no young talent coming through and it’s good to hopefully be proving that wrong.
“The biggest thing from the other night was the trust and buying in to what the manager is trying to do. At 2-0 down it would have been easy to go into our shells, back to basics, but we kept going forward.
“Maybe as a whole squad it is the most competitive I’ve been in, when you think about the players who aren’t here through injury.”
Milner’s much-vaunted versatility has possibly hindered his attempts to nail down a regular starting berth for England.
Hodgson paid tribute to Milner’s selfless adaptability but suggested England’s present style of play lends itself to employing the 30-year-old in a central role for the foreseeable future.
“There’s no doubt that he’s versatile,” Hodgson said. “We were speaking the other day and James gave me a long list of positions he’s played. I don’t think there are that many that he hasn’t played.
“As far as we’re concerned, James is a very good midfield player, capable of playing wide but also in central areas.
“I think the way we are trying to play at the moment and the way Liverpool play is right up his street.
“He is looking forward to playing in a position he enjoys tomorrow.”
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