James Milner arrived at Liverpool five years ago today as Brendan Rodgers’ last masterstroke… he’s now the fan favourite under Klopp who the Anfield hierarchy smashed their contract policy for
- On this day five years ago James Milner agreed to sign for Liverpool on a free
- There was very little fanfare about the signing but Milner is now a key players
- He demands the very best from his team-mates and is a key part of the squad
- Milner has won the Champions League at Anfield and will surely win the title now
- Jurgen Klopp once described him as ‘exceptional’ and that is a clear reflection
Pause for a moment and think of some words you would associate with James Milner. Tireless would make the list; decorated and experienced might be others. But how about selfish?
It might not readily pop to mind but, in terms of launching his Liverpool career, it is wholly appropriate. It was one he would even use himself. Milner, for perhaps the first time in his life, thought about himself in 2015 and that choice paid spectacular dividends.
He was unveiled by Liverpool on this day five years ago, a free transfer after his Manchester City contract had expired. They had lead the race to sign him for many months, with then manager Brendan Rodgers laying the groundwork, and he was handed the iconic No 7 shirt on arrival.
On this day five years ago James Milner was unveiled by Liverpool as a free signing from City
Five years later Milner has took his career to new heights and established himself as a key man
Yellow cards: 31
Red cards: 2
Minutes played: 14,463
Honours: Champions League 18/19, UEFA Super Cup 19/20, FIFA Club World Cup 19/20
To say his acquisition was widely celebrated at the time, though, would be wrong. You have to remember the feelings around Anfield at that particular juncture. The 2014-15 campaign had ended in misery and rancour after a 6-1 defeat to Stoke City, with Rodgers under almost intolerable pressure. Crucially, he was given a chance to continue.
‘At that time, we felt that we needed that experience to come in,’ Rodgers told Sportsmail last October. ‘It was a big decision for James. I remember travelling out one evening with Charlotte, my wife, and we were trying to coax him to come. So we went to his house and we sat down.
‘Charlotte did the work on his wife, telling her what a great club Liverpool is and how it is an incredible place to come. And I went to work on James… It’s really, really interesting because he wanted to come to Liverpool. He had won the Premier League, he had won cups.’
Milner had other options. City didn’t want him to leave and Khaldoon Al Mubarak, their chairman, made it clear money would not be a problem if he wanted to stay. It was never about money but if Rodgers had been sacked after the embarrassment at the Bet365 Stadium, he may have remained at the Etihad Stadium.
Brendan Rodgers led the charm offensive to convince Milner Liverpool was the place to be
Milner has come up trumps in big moments, including a calm penalty at Old Trafford in 2017
But he was impressed by the vision Rodgers sold and wanted the challenge to become a key man at another club. So he followed his instinct. Liverpool, he believed, was a project that mirrored City in 2010 and he was desperate to forge a new, successful chapter.
‘His whole ambition was to win the Champions League and he felt he’d have a better opportunity to win it at Liverpool, with how we were working and the (history of the) club,’ Rodgers added. ‘I knew it was going to be a tough one. He was building a house out that way in Manchester.
‘When we got the call to say he was going to come, I was so, so happy. His professionalism, his intensity, his focus. It was always going to help the squad. Even though it was only a short time we worked together, he was always going to be a really good signing. He is just a top class professional.’
It was evident to his new colleagues within days of him starting training. During that summer tour of Australia, Thailand and Malaysia – how he spoke, how he played – it was obvious he would get the vice-captaincy role that had become vacant following Jordan Henderson’s promotion.
Milner finally got his hands on the Champions League when Liverpool beat Spurs last year
Milner is a crucial part of Jurgen Klopp’s side and recently signed a new two-year contract
Milner is a stickler for doing things right, the man who will collect fines from his team-mates if they breach the rules of the dressing room. He is relentless in his determination for standards to be met at all times, a man raised on old-fashioned values, but that attitude has carried him far.
‘He’s the fittest guy you’ve ever met,’ said Andrew Robertson. ‘In pre-season we’d be all blowing and he’d be jogging beside us. He’ll be the first out on the training ground, but then he can have a full-on argument with one of the coaches. The guy just loves sport.’
Whatever indifference there was initially towards Milner has now totally evaporated. He is a fan favourite, someone who has lived up to the exacting standards of that fabled squad number, and he has driven the team on to the highest heights with Jurgen Klopp.
This is the man to step up and take nerveless last minute penalties, the man who clattered into Lionel Messi during Anfield’s greatest night last May after the Argentine had called him ‘a donkey’; he doesn’t suffer fools, he won’t accept that something is impossible.
Milner slams home a last-minute penalty against Leicester to pick up another important win
Milner is now surely going to get another Premier League winners’ medal in the coming weeks
To give an idea of how highly-regarded Milner is by Liverpool, the club made a rare exception by offering a two-year contract to a man in his mid-thirties when they would normally never budge from offering a 12-month extension. Age doesn’t matter when you have irreplaceable qualities.
Milner has a trophy cabinet that would be the envy of all bar a select few and, soon, he will add another Premier League medal to the collection. He never lost sight of that target when he signed his deal on June 4, 2015 and few will have done more to earn it.
‘Exceptional, exceptional,’ Klopp once said when asked to describe Milner.
Selfish might have been the word that created the path that led to Merseyside. But, from the initial recruitment and the idea to sign him to the standards he has set during half a decade, exceptional is the one that suits him best of all.
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