A Man Out Of Time, A Man For All Times – Liverpool And Former England Star James Milner

James Milner

When the announcement came, there was little surprise. With 61 caps to his name and having represented his country at two World Cups, he might have expected a little more fanfare. The low-key coverage reflected the nation’s view of the squad’s performance at Euro 2016 but it was entirely fitting. James Milner, now a retired England international, is every inch an understated footballer.

Born in Leeds, he graduated to his hometown club’s first team at the age of sixteen, making his debut against West Ham United. He was at the time, the youngest player to appear in a Premier League match. He also holds the record for most Under-21 caps for England.

Eyebrows were raised when I mentioned that recently. James Milner isn’t a player you readily associate with records.

He’s a soft target. Rarely, if ever, in the front pages, he is an unassuming player. Alan Shearer mentioned that he celebrated winning the Premier League title with Blackburn by creosoting his fence. Milner probably did the same in 2011 and redecorated the kitchen in 2014 when Manchester City were crowned champions.

His persona is the very antithesis of a Premier League footballer. Not for the brash sports car, something more practical for him; a Range Rover or similar. A family car for a family man. There is a parody account on Twitter: Boring James Milner. That’s his image and I doubt he cares for one minute.

Although he did once own an Aston Martin DB9. He probably swapped it for a Volvo XC90.

Milner isn’t a popular player with football supporters generally but his work ethic marks him out as a player supporters like to have in their team. He works hard for the collective and eschews flashy skills. Managers love him with his versatility a tremendous asset to have.

Jurgen Klopp has used him at full back this season already when Alberto Moreno’s form was so bad that he is desperate to keep the Spaniard away from the Liverpool defence. Unusually, Milner hasn’t found versatility a burden, embracing the task rather than complaining publicly.

Some of the stems from his experience at Leeds United. He was sold to Newcastle United in 2004 when financial difficulties forced a fire sale at Elland Road. It was an emotional experience, he said of the time, and one which left him prepared to face any future problems or difficulties. Being asked to play left back instead of on either flank is trivial by comparison.

He was never blessed with a sprinter’s pace. Milner was an average footballer in terms of speed but he has stamina. As a youth, he was a decent cross-country runner which gives him the edge later in matches. As opponents tire, he is tireless. Psychologically, that plays into their minds and hands him the advantage.

And it’s one he isn’t shy of using. Last season, he provided 14 assists for his Liverpool team-mates. It’s a statistic which stands a solid comparison to his Premier League peers and underlines why managers like him. Milner is consistent: 574 club appearances underlines that.

His value to the squad was underlined by his arrival at Manchester City. He was about to begin his fourth season with Aston Villa when the Etihad called. In 2010 he cost then-manager Roberto Mancini £26m of his transfer budget. For a player who based his game on endeavour, it was a significant fee.

But he had been PFA Young Player of the Year the previous season, an award few mention nowadays. He’s not a man to flash his medals around. He must have done something right at City; Mancini left and Manuel Pellegrini came in. Milner kept his place in the squad and appeared in most of the Premier League games.

When he moved to Anfield, it was a signing barely noticed by the rest of the footballing world and certainly garnered little attention in the media. At 29, he was considered to be winding down his career. Liverpool weren’t title challengers, simply an outside contender for the Europa League spot.

With Jurgen Klopp’s arrival, the outlook changed. More was expected with the charismatic German in charge. The Reds reached the Europa League final where a second-half collapse cost them silverware. The outlook at Anfield was positive despite the defeat.

Klopp’s view of Milner was laid out after his managerial debut against Tottenham Hotspur. Asked if he had much to teach his new players, Klopp was unequivocal in his praise:

“Milner? The complete football player, the perfect professional.”

It doesn’t come much clearer than that. It’s no surprise Klopp likes him; Gegenpress requires a high energy tempo and Milner’s fitness levels are such that the tactic holds no fear from him.

Nor does making a mistake. Even though his error of judgement against Tottenham led to their equaliser, Klopp’s reaction was telling:

“Of course, he still has to adapt and learn a little bit – he has 500 games but not in this position – we have to work on it.

“But in the end we were convinced that he can play the position, that’s why we didn’t make a transfer in this position for another player.

“I’m not surprised that he can play it.”

For a club with Liverpool’s wealth, that is a staggering admission. A midfielder converted to a full back is a more preferable squad member than signing a new player. The adaptability gives Klopp the chance to utilise money elsewhere.

Milner described the change as another day at the office:

“I’m a Liverpool player and if I’m told to do something by the manager I’m more than happy to do it for the team.”

A team player to the end.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to Milner is that he is a timeless footballer. He could have made the grade as a professional in any era.

The hard tackling days of the 1970s and 1980s? He would have laughed in the face of that danger. Heading the much heavier football of the 1930s? The ball would have needed paracetamol, not Milner. And as for running in those boots? Pffft, he wears them now as slippers.

He’s that kind of player. A man out of time. A man for all times.

Written by Stuart Stratford

Sports Writer for the last ten years, I have written the well-respected football (soccer) website, A Cultured Left Foot, focussing on Arsenal but with a broader outlook than most club-specific sites.

Follow me on Twitter @Yogis_Warrior

Manchester United celebrating their UEFA Champions League win

Countries With The Most Champions League Wins

transfer rumors

Boost For Chelsea And Manchester United As Contract Talks For Key Target Breaks Down