Liverpool got it wrong last summer. In their attempts to rebuild the squad following the sale of Luis Suarez, the Reds spent a vast amount of money on young players, which contributed to Liverpool dropping from 2nd to 6th last season. With some of Liverpool’s more expensive buys, namely Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren, proving to be some of the bigger flops, Liverpool fans will be relieved that their first capture of an important summer is costing the club nothing at all. Even more relief will come from the fact that the said capture is James Milner.
Milner has received his fair (and sometimes unfair) share of criticism over the years, but his signing should prove to be a shrewd piece of business for both parties. Milner will bring experience, versatility and quality to the Anfield side, whereas Liverpool will be able to provide him with regular football and the chance to play European football. It seems to be just about the perfect fit.
The main reason Liverpool needed to sign someone like Milner was the loss of inspirational captain Steven Gerrard. Whilst Gerrard is an irreplaceable figure at Anfield, Milner goes a long way to replacing him both positionally and in terms of experience. With Gerrard’s exit, Liverpool’s only real options in central midfield are Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, Emre Can and Lucas Leiva. Milner coming into the squad will not only add numbers but also a considerable amount of quality to a midfield that is fairly average compared to their top 4 rivals.
In addition, at 34, Gerrard was far from his best last season, and probably left the club at the right time in his career. He may have been Liverpool’s top scorer with 13 goals in all competitions, but his all round performance level was much lower than it had been in recent years. At 29, Milner, although a very different type of player, should be playing at a much higher level, and will provide more energy to the Liverpool team with his tireless work ethic. Gerrard may be a Liverpool legend, but in terms of performance, Milner represents an upgrade.
Furthermore, whilst Gerrard’s level of experience is impossible to rival, there are few more seasoned Premier League stars than Milner, which will aid Liverpool’s callow squad. With 53 England caps, two Premier League winners medals and almost 13 years of experience at the top level, Milner boats a wealth of experience that is hard to match. Combine this with his undoubted ability and hard work, he will add a lot to the team and squad as a whole, something Liverpool desperately need with a young squad.
Milner also adds a great deal of versatility. Primarily a central midfielder, he can play in an attacking or defensive manner, and has even played as a wing-back or central striker. He adds so much energy and is willing to sacrifice himself for the team. If Liverpool need a gap filling in the team, Milner will fill it, no questions asked. This will be of great use for Brendan Rodgers should he suffer a similar level of injuries to last season.
The move will not only be of great benefit to Liverpool, but for his own career as well. After five years of being primarily a squad player at Manchester City, Milner has the opportunity to cement himself a place in the starting eleven. Furthermore, with Daniel Sturridge set to return from injury in September and lessons learned from a torrid campaign, Liverpool should be on the up again, and Milner will benefit from still being at a club that should be challenging for trophies and Champions League qualification. Should Liverpool fulfil their potential, Milner will have a successful end to his career.
Perhaps the most important thing about the transfer, though, is that it’s free. There is no danger of Milner becoming a big money flop, because no money has been paid. Although free transfers are not always successful (Liverpool only have to look as far as Joe Cole), Rodgers’ side are adding a quality player to their squad and not having to shell out on a transfer fee. Not only does this make Milner a no-risk signing, it also frees up finds to improve the squad in other important areas, such as right-back and up front. For free, this signing is a complete no brainer.
Overall, Liverpool have pulled off one of the most astute pieces of business we will see all summer by signing James Milner. His experience and quality will go a long way to replacing the loss of Steven Gerrard, whilst his versatility and willingness to sacrifice himself for the team will be of great benefit to Liverpool’s young squad as a whole. With no hefty transfer fee hanging over his head, Milner can play with a lesser amount of pressure on himself whilst Liverpool can use the money they’re saving to improve the team elsewhere. Just like on the football field, Milner’s transfer may not be a massive headline, but it will quietly be of great benefit to the whole team. All in all, a very good start to the summer for Liverpool.