Rollickings from team-mates and avoiding booze has kept veteran Milner on top

James Milner lost count of the amount of times team-mates tried to tempt him with a pint.

But he’s glad he turned them all down and he reckons they might be glad, too. Milner, 36, will mark 20 years since he made his first professional appearance this Thursday.

He was just 16 years and 309 days when he replaced Jason Wilcox for Leeds in the last six minutes of their clash with West Ham on November 10, 2002. Milner could barely fill out the shirt – “Big Virg would fit in that” he pointed out – as he made his way onto the Upton Park pitch.

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Remarkably, he is still going now at the very top of the game with Liverpool. Over the two decades he has changed as a player but the game has changed a lot more.

When he was a teenager at Elland Road, being teetotal was abnormal. Now many young players coming through don’t touch alcohol. “I lost count of the amount of times people said, ‘oh, just have one’,” said Milner. “Or, ‘Can I be there when you have your first drink?’

“If it had happened they would probably have regretted actually being there I would have thought, I could have turned into being pretty ruthless. You don’t know. I could have been a hugger and a kisser as well.”

Milner has never touched a drop. Not even when he won any of his three Premier League titles, two FA Cups, two League Cups, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup or Club World Cup. It is one of the reasons why he has been able to maintain his levels for 20 years. It was part of his supreme dedication.

“We had one fitness coach back then, now we have I don’t know how many, and it was like right we’re going in the gym,” said Milner. “You are educated on hydration and how important that is, so you start drinking loads more water, all these little bits you learn and you try and do your best.

“After training I would go and practice corners and free-kicks rather than playing on the PlayStation. You had Wednesday and Sunday off so the lads mostly went out on a Saturday night, had team building on a Wednesday and some trained in a bin bag on the Thursday to sweat it out. It was different.

“They [senior players] would give me a rollicking when I needed it and would make sure their boots were clean – that was all part of it.

“I was playing in the Premier League and also picking slips up off the floor, taking skips to the bus and cleaning the under-19 captain’s boots (Alan Kinsella) while I was in the first team. But that was the way it was.”

Milner’s career has spanned six clubs. At Leeds there was a loan spell at Swindon, then there was Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Liverpool. He has a glittering trophy cabinet but he has moved with the game rather than being left behind which has kept him at the top.

“After training every day five years ago I would have been doing shooting and my finishing was fantastic,” said the midfielder, who admits training ground gyms are much busier now.

“When you get older you can’t be hitting balls every day after training, so you have to develop.Ok I won’t do that but I will do yoga tonight when I get home and that is added to it.”

Milner has a contract at Anfield until the end of the season. There’s no talk of retiring yet. He looks at friend Jimmy Anderson playing cricket for England at 40.

There are some loose plans in retirement for running a marathon with pal Kevin Sinfield, who is pushing his body beyond the limits to fundraise for Motor Neurone Disease which friend Rob Burrow is battling. For now, he keeps going.

“Every time you turn on the TV there are people talking who you played with or you played with the manager in the other dug-out,” Milner added. “I played against David Seaman and he’s just turned 59. It’s mind-blowing.”


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