Martin O'Neill: Milner's influence invaluable
Martin O'Neill praised James Milner for his World Cup contribution and stressed his desire to see the accomplished central midfielder at the forefront of plans for the 2010-11 season.
O'Neill admitted he was worried Milner's tournament might be over after being substituted early on in the opening group game against USA.
But he praised the PFA Young Player of the Year's powers of recovery for surging back with an impressive and ultimately vital performance against Slovenia in the final group game - setting up Jermain Defoe for the winner.
O'Neill wants Milner to be just as influential in a Villa shirt this season.
He said: "That [return to action] was very, very pleasing. He fought back.
"Most people around the football club were concerned he might not get another chance after that period of half an hour in that first game. Thankfully he did so.
"He made a significant contribution in the third game."
On his claret and blue hopes, the boss added: "Eventually if players do want to leave the football club, or any football club for that matter, then it becomes more difficult than ever before.
"But what I will say is we have a better chance of performing in the manner in which we did last season if we could keep the best players and James comes into that equation."
Villa had three players in the England squad at the summer showpiece in South Africa and club manager O'Neill revealed surprise at the team's early exit, insisting the Three Lions "didn't really get going."
He continued: "I think England went with great expection, obviously, and I thought they would do very well in the competition. As it turns out, they came out rather disappointed - and disappointed in the sense that over four games they probably just didn't perform well enough really to do better.
"Having said that, look at Spain and the way they recovered from the loss in the first match. I think they might be the first team to win the World Cup having lost their opening group game.
"So as the competition progresses, you can actually get better. Even if you get off to a stodgy start, you're still hanging in there.
"Performances could well have improved but for England, they just didn't really get going."
The England campaign in South Africa was swamped with stories of dissatisfaction in the camp and player unrest. O'Neill insisted the rumours just go to prove how difficult a manager's job is.
He added: "You'll always have tales emanating from a camp regarding dissatisfied players. It seems to be more the norm now than ever before.
"But the manager can only pick so many players.
"There are going to be one or two disappointed people and if they feel they have a great case they might be a little more than disappointed, they might be disgruntled.
"But overall it should be a team game - Spain proved that - and the manager's job is becoming even more difficult now than ever before.
"I think England should have gone there with the one purpose because it's a team game. It's a case of hiding your disappointment if you're left out of the side and doing your very, very best if you play."