James Milner – Bill Shankly’s Kind Of Player
Bill Shankly once said: “For a player to be good enough to play for Liverpool, he must be prepared to run through a brick wall for me then come out fighting on the other side.”
If that’s the criteria, then James Milner ticks all the boxes and then some.
Forget the social media sneering. Ignore the naysayers. Milner is a fantastic signing for Liverpool Football Club – potentially a key player if played in his best position. Make no mistake about it: this is a coup for the Reds and a blow to Man City.
Manuel Pellegrini was loath to lose the former Leeds academy player.
In an interview with The Guardian during the season he said of Milner: “Find me a more complete English player. There are players who’re better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes. But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn’t one.”
“Intelligent, great mentality, one of those players that when you leave him out you’re left with this feeling of injustice; it hurts because he should always play but sometimes you need a technical player with other characteristics. I hope he stays. If he doesn’t it will be because there’s an important offer.”
Man City had reportedly offered Milner a new deal worth £165,000 a week to stay at the Etihad but his mind was already made up. He was frustrated with being seen as a bit part player, constantly played out of position.
Right wing, right back, false nine, water boy: he performs without complaint anywhere he is asked and he does so whilst being one of the best players on the pitch. An injury crisis during the season had forced Pellegrini to play Milner as an emergency striker; the side averaged three goals a game.
If you had eleven James Milners in your side, you wouldn’t be far off winning the league.
In an age in which footballers will move wherever they’re offered the most money – despite not being guaranteed first team football – it was immensely refreshing to note that the England international turned down a higher salary at City to move to Liverpool for less and – what you would assume – a guarantee of regular football in his best position.
It’s hard to believe James Milner has been around for 13 years now. He first rose to prominence as a 16-year-old at Leeds, becoming the youngest ever player to score a Premier League goal. He was later sold to Newcastle before settling at Aston Villa under Martin O’Neill where he would flourish under the Irishman.
His two years at Villa Park were stellar with the claret and blue faithful taking the Yorkshire boy to their hearts with his high-octane, all-action displays. First played out wide, O’Neill would move him into a central role alongside Gareth Barry and, whilst there, he would play the best football of his career.
His pulsating, thrusting, box-to-box displays, his tenacious tackling, his long-range goals and whipped crosses had Villa fans purring. He was heralded as the next Steven Gerrard and his performances would prick ears among the Premier League big boys.
His £24 million move to Man City with Stephen Ireland in exchange (that worked out well, didn’t it) has proved to be a bargain over the last five seasons with Milner playing a significant role in two title triumphs, an FA Cup and a League Cup win.
His move to Liverpool is timely. With Gerrard off to sunnier climes, a huge hole has now been filled. He won’t command the same respect as the Anfield legend – at least not initially – but in playing terms, he is an upgrade on the now departed captain.
Alongside Jordan Henderson he will provide tenacity, drive, discipline and an extra goal scoring threat from midfield. His ability to play in a number of positions also provides a utility outlet that only Emre Can currently provides.
They still need more quality and intelligence at the hub of the engine room – someone of the ilk of İlkay Gündoğan or a Morgan Schneiderlin – but James Milner will be a key cog in the wheel. As long as he plays in his best position.