This summer will be James Milner’s seventh as a Liverpool player. The veteran midfielder, who has essentially been used in every position available during his time at Anfield, arrived at the end of his Manchester City contract and while questions were asked of the club’s ambition when Brendan Rodgers snapped Milner up on a free, it proved to be a stroke of genius on the Northern Irishman’s behalf, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his tenure as Liverpool boss.
Only three months in and Milner was under his second manager in Merseyside, and its hard to think of a more archetypal midfielder under Jürgen Klopp than the Yorkshireman. Milner personifies the work ethic, grit and determination that Klopp has needed to revive Liverpool’s glory days, turning them into a side lacking identity and proficiency to within an inch of a famous quadruple.
Together, Milner and Klopp have been to three Champions League finals, winning one, as well as ending the club’s 30-year wait for a league title, alongside the European Super Cup, Club World Cup and domestic League Cup and FA Cup double this season.
As his trophy collection continues to grow, Milner’s minutes begin to decrease. While an integral part of the side that reached the Europa League final in 2016 and then secured fourth place in 2017 where he played mostly at fullback, Milner’s role now as a 36-year-old is more sporadic, with emphasis on retaining that elite winning mentality and keeping up high standards.
The introduction of Thiago and Fabinho have taken Liverpool up to a new dimension, one in which they are far superior than the majority of the sides in Europe and favourites in most games when it comes to bets for football.
Consequently, Milner has struggled to keep up with the frantic pace of the Reds’ relentless season, and has looked way off it a few times this season, particularly away at Chelsea and at home to Manchester City, where he should probably have been sent off deputising at right back.
Nonetheless, Milner still has an important role in the side and Klopp would be foolish to let him go, but there will certainly be plenty of suitors. With the ongoing talks of contracts for Mohamed Salah and the outgoing Sadio Mané, Milner has barely had a mention, but his versatility and reliability should surely be a good enough reason to keep him around the Kirkby training centre.
Aston Villa have shown their interest, and look like an ideal candidate — Steven Gerrard played with him in the England national team and Milner spent three seasons at Villa Park before joining City in the summer of 2010. Hometown Leeds United have also expressed their interest, and Milner himself had hinted before that he would consider returning home in the autumn of his career. Given his maintenance though and fitness when he does play, Milner could just as easily play every week right up until 40, with Klopp singing his praises after his importance in rotation for the business end of the season.
“It’s difficult to be fitter than Milly,” he said. “He’s a role model. I have told him, I can tell the whole world – nothing we have achieved in the last few years would have happened without James Milner, it’s as easy as that. “Whether he was on the pitch or not, he’s set standards in a way not a lot of people can set standards, and it educated all of us.”
With Klopp singing his praises its clear he wants to keep Milner around, and it will be interesting to see if a deal is orchestrated before the start of the season.