Why Liverpool's stand-in left-back James Milner is the complete footballer?
James Milner’s move to the red half of Merseyside from Manchester City last year was met with general skepticism; how would a player who doesn’t make the first team at the Etihad help Liverpool get back into the Champions League?
Instead of wilting under pressure, the vice-captain led the Reds (along with skipper Jordan Henderson) to the League Cup and the Europa League finals, narrowly losing out on both. This year, he has aged like fine wine, taking his game up a notch!
Chipping in with sven goals and 14 assists in the league, he was one of the star performers of the previous season and turned out to be a shrewd acquisition by Brendan Rodgers.
A year on, he is now one of the first names on the team sheet under current manager, Jürgen Klopp.
The former English international made his first premier league start for his boyhood club Leeds, as a young 16-year old and has maintained the same level of commitment and hunger to win ever since. In the Premier League, rarely does a player move to a rival team and yet get respect from both sets of fans.
Having moved away from the Whites due to their financial troubles, he has played for Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and now, Liverpool; Milly is loved by fans everywhere that he has been.
It isn’t a pretty sight to watch James Milner play, but then again, he was never meant to be that kind of a player. None of the flicks and tricks, rabonas or quick feet, neither does he produce the moments of magic that his teammates so often do. He is, as is said so often, a “boring” or “dull” player.
However, a better portrayal of his style is consistency, reliability and his commitment to always give 100% for the team. He is a player who will scarcely do the exceptional to ‘wow’ the fans, but is just as less likely to commit a mistake on the field – Mr. Dependable, as he is called.
As a long distance runner in school, he has taken this talent to football with his immense stamina and pressing abilities, which perfectly fits under the philosophy of his Liverpool head coach!
James Milner is versatility personified – through his 14 year long career in top flight football, he has played as a winger and a fullback, in the center of the midfield, and a false nine too, when City were going through a striker crisis a few seasons ago.
This ability is a manager’s dream and has certainly made his current boss happy, by taking to the left-back position as a fish does to water. To put the needs of his manager and the team ahead of his, he is a true professional in the sense, and one who absolutely hates losing.
Nathaniel Clyne recently remarked, “every team needs a James Milner in their side”, and that typifies the kind of player the Yorkshire born midfielder is. A leader on and off the pitch and one of the calm voices in the dressing room, every manager would want a player like him in their arsenal.
To have never been on the losing side in every match that he has scored, makes one wonder if Manuel Pellegrini could have possibly started Milner more often during his last season in Manchester, especially when they needed a burst of energy to turn the game around.
Before the Europa League final against Sevilla, when he was to lead the team in the absence of Jordan Henderson, Milner quoted, “Hendo will lift the trophy if we win, even if he isn’t in the squad.” Loved by his teammates wherever he has played, James doesn’t need the armband to show what a true leader he is.
For Liverpool this season, he has been a revelation at left-back. After a string of abysmal performances by Alberto Moreno, Milner was asked to shoulder the responsibility.
Comfortable with either foot to whip in crosses, and to track back and defend, he is a running machine. Unsurprisingly, he is calm and reliable from 12 yards and has netted four goals from the spot kick so far.
Over the summer, Milner retired from international duty to focus on his club career. This seems to have sparked a new lease of life in him, and he is in a better shape and much fresher for the challenges he faces in the Premier League.
He hopes to replicate the success that he had with City at Anfield and has been working hard to put in stupendous performances since the beginning of the season.
He admits that he does hope to return to Leeds before the end of his career; however at 30, Kopites will be assured that he still has a few more glorious years ahead of him with them.
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