James Milner - Serial Winner

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Naz Majeed 

In the summer of 2010, Manchester City added Jérôme Boateng, Yaya Touré, David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov, Mario Balotelli, and James Milner to their squad, Milner himself only arriving after the season had already started.

Having played - and scored for - Aston Villa three days before the deal had been finalized, the England international had said goodbye to Villa fans, receiving a standing ovation from the support.

The reigning PFA Young Player of the Year, Milner’s previous spells at Leeds United, Newcastle United, and then Aston Villa had seen the player demonstrate his attacking flair, performing well as a winger and attacking midfielder, with an eye for a pass and deadly set-piece delivery. His final few months at Villa, however, saw Milner play in central midfield after the departure of Gareth Barry (also to Manchester City).

It was in this deeper role that Milner would be most commonly deployed by City manager Roberto Mancini, playing 41 times in all competitions in his first season at the Etihad, with the attacking berths occupied by David Silva and Adam Johnson, and occasionally Yaya Toure.

A third-placed finish in the Premier League came before City won the FA Cup, with Milner scoring in the Third Round though he was an unused substitute in the Final, where Manchester City beat Stoke City, securing their first major trophy in over 30 years. Along the way, Milner would also make his 250th Premier League appearance, still under the age of 25.

 

The next season actually saw Milner play fewer games than his first, with the arrival of Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero increasing competition for places, though he would score his first two Premier League goals for City, the second of which came against former club Aston Villa in September 2011. He would follow that up with two assists in City’s historic 6-1 win at Old Trafford, as City went on to win the title in the most dramatic of circumstances. 

An experienced, versatile, and dependable winner, many still viewed Milner as nothing more than a squad player, even as he continued to play a key role in City’s biggest games against their biggest rivals.

Goals against Manchester United, Arsenal, and Bayern Munich in the next two seasons lifted his side to new heights, helping them seal their position as the new power of English football. Even then, Milner’s name would rarely be uttered in the same breath as Aguero, Tevez, Silva, Toure, Fernandinho or even Jesus Navas, who was given more game-time than Milner in the victorious 2013/14 Premier League season.

Come the start of the 2014/15 season, Milner had amassed two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and a League Cup winner’s medal. Milner would play 32 times in the Premier League, mostly alongside Fernandinho in defensive midfield. No further medals would come for Milner at City, and in June 2015, he would join Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool.

With 53 caps for England, Milner arrived at Anfield having already played 24 times against Liverpool for his various clubs, and alongside Kolo Toure and Daniel Sturridge, would be the one of the few players in Liverpool’s squad that had tasted Premier League success. Installed as vice-captain, scoring his first goal for Liverpool against Aston Villa. 

While a Premier League title would evade Liverpool, Milner himself would continue to play an integral role in the evolution of the side, his all-action style fitting in well with new manager Jurgen Klopp when the German took over from Rodgers in October 2015. A consistent part of Klopp’s midfield three, Milner would guide Liverpool to the final of the League Cup and Europa League in 2016, though both would end in defeat.

 

Ever-consistent, the arrival of Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in following seasons would force Milner to sometimes be deployed at full-back, Klopp appreciating the player's renowned versatility.

That versatility and professionalism lent itself well to Klopp’s transformation of Liverpool, with Milner’s own gradual transformation from tricky winger to deep-lying playmaker now taking him to a position in defence. Still vice-captain of the club, he would start the 2018 Champions League Final shortly after breaking the record for Champions League assists.

 

2019 saw Liverpool finally clinch the Champions League in Madrid, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0. Milner would come on midway through the second half, his calming influence and dependability allowing Liverpool to see out the game and score their second goal shortly before full time.

Later going on to be part of and then win the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup, Milner became embedded in a historic run of trophies for Liverpool, and in the coming weeks it is likely that he and his side are the current champions of England, Europe, and the World.

 

It can be said that Milner has been under-appreciated since leaving Aston Villa, especially during his time at Manchester City, but few players have shown such a consistent level of performance at such a high level.

WIth more assists than David Beckham and more titles than Steven Gerrard, Milner’s contribution and achievements are objectively brilliant, even as the player has developed a reputation for being inconspicuous or even boring.

But it is probably that very fact that only accentuates his quality and contribution; a no-nonsense player with the flair and finesse to change a game as well as the doggedness and determination to battle to victory, winning matches and titles be it wearing blue or red.

It can be hard to define what James Milner truly is looking back at the various seasons and systems he has been a part of at his various clubs. But it is perhaps most fair and accurate to say that Milner is each and all of those things, having deployed as a ball-carrying wide man, a creative winger, a driving attacking midfielder in the hole, box-to-box shuttler, deep-lying playmaker, ball-winning defensive midfielder, backup fullback, emergency striker, squad player, captain, and above all, winner.


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