James Milner – The most underrated English footballer
Since the days of David Beckham, the sport of football has become the symbol of swag and skill. Nowadays footballers with fancy tattoos and eye-pleasing step-overs catch the attention of media and the audience.
In this race of stylish, galloping and super skilled footballers, sometimes some hardworking professional gentlemen are neglected. James Milner is the forerunner among the handful remaining in this rare breed of footballers.
Despite registering overall competition highest number of assists (8) in Liverpool’s last year fantastic Champions League run, the modest workhorse didn’t receive the amount of appreciation he deserved. Hugely talented Milner, who is often tagged as ‘boring’, most of the times fails to receive the spotlight he is worthy of.
Unfortunate to appear in the Golden Era of midfielders
The Englishman is unfortunate to share the same golden era as of fellow English midfielders like Steven Gerard, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, and Paul Scholes. Despite suffering stiff competition in the national team, the player from Leeds managed to represent his national team on 61 occasions since his debut on 12 August 2009.
Coming through the youth ranks of his hometown football club, Leeds United, he made his club debut at the tender age of 16. On 26 December 2002, Milner became the youngest player ever to score in the Premier League.
He netted his first goal in a 2-1 victory over Sunderland at the age of 16 years and 356 days. His goal came almost two months after the famous Wayne Rooney’s maiden goal against Arsenal. It is interesting to compare the hype both the goals created.
‘I picked Milner there because he is a player, who works really hard, creates a lot of movement and spaces,’ Pellegrini quoted after Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace in 2014.
Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, and Stevan Jovetic were injured before the match and Milner was assigned to start at the tip of City's attack. Milner, who is a center midfield specialist was not only happy to support his team at a bizarre position but also managed to tuck-in an assist in the match as well.
After a free transfer to Liverpool, Klopp instructed James to play as left back in place of injured and underperforming Alberto Moreno. Initially, the right-footed Englishman was unimpressed by the head coach’s decision but ended up playing 36 matches in 2016/17 season. His adaptability to new position helped the Reds to secure Champions League spot. Later Andrew Robertson was signed and Milner was restored in the middle of the park.
The manager who gave Milner his Premier League debut, Terry Venables, was not surprised to see James play at three different positions in a single match while playing for England in 2014. He quoted,” That is the versatility that has made Milner such a success. He has always been a good lad and a ferocious hard worker. He wanted to be a player and you knew that he would be.”
Milner is a 32-years-old tireless engine
On the first day of preseason camp prior to 2018/19 campaign, Liverpool conducted Lactic Acid test to identify the fitness standards of the first team players. The thirty-two years old, James Milner stood first in the fitness test brushing aside the challenges from his younger teammates like Naby Keita, Fabinho, Andrew Robertson, Danny Ings, and even Adam Lallana.
It is not only a fitness test; the veteran midfielder is also making the new expensive signings, Naby Keita and Fabinho, to run for their money at the center of the park. He is one of the most consistent players used by Klopp this season, starting eight out of ten Premier League matches for Liverpool.
Even the stats favor Milner’s massive engine. In the Liverpool away fixture against Manchester City in the Champions League this year, James covered a total distance of 13.53 Km which was almost two kilometers more than his nearest teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (11.66 Km).
His disciplined personality
Zlatan Ibrahimovic once rejected to play at wider areas when he was asked to do so by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. In today’s world of specialist footballers, it is very difficult to find players who can play at every position without complaining.
James Milner is the master of willingly accepting almost any task assigned. His sturdy work ethic and unwavering desire to play every match makes him one of the most outstanding players. There have not been many instances of dissatisfaction, outburst with manager or war of words with teammates in Milner’s more than 16 years long career.
James’ former boss, Manager Pellegrini had the following words for the industrious Englishmen - “You leave him on the bench and he is furious, but watch him during the game, encouraging and shouting. And in the next training session, he kills it for 95 minutes. It’s very difficult to find another Milner an intelligent player, with big balls and a massive heart.”
Another feature of Milner’s playing style is discipline. In more than 720 appearances for club and country, he has seen red card only a couple of times. He has let his team in trouble of playing with a man less only twice.
Low cost of maintenance
Until now Liverpool have played 13 matches this season (10 in Premier League, 3 in Champions League and 1 in EFL Cup). Out of total 1,170 minutes, Milner has featured in 908 minutes for Liverpool.
The 32 years old occupied the field 77.6% of the time which is only second to Gini Wijnaldum. He is also the second most affordable midfielder for Liverpool, costing only £1585.9 per minute to the club. Milner's low cost of maintenance and high rate of work efficiency makes him one of the most precious possession for any of his managers.
Stats and trophies
Milner has represented six different clubs in his career but all his trophies came at his time at Manchester City (2010 – 2015). The other clubs that Milner labored for are Liverpool (2015 – Present), Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Leeds United and Swindon Town (on loan from Leeds). The combined stats of Milner’s Club and country career are as follows.
There are very fewer football players today with the attitude of putting their heads down and working hard. In the past, we have seen some down to earth workhorse gentlemen like Paul Scholes.
The generation needs to know more about players like James Milner who have managed to preserve the longevity of their careers, supreme fitness, and premier skill standards due to discipline in their personal lives.
Milner underlined the fact that his strict restrictions on smoking and drinking enabled him to survive at the topmost level of football. The present and upcoming generations of football players need to identify and idolize legends of the game like Scholes and Milner. They should know that despite being underrated the contribution of these players for any team can't be neglected.