As the domestic season finishes and, for most clubs at least, the transfer season starts, it was concerning to see James Milner popping up on several “XI players available for free this summer” lists that do the rounds at this time of year. Surely that couldn’t be, right? That we’d let such a key player leave for nothing without trying harder to secure his future.
It turns out it wasn’t right. He has a year left. But the links away, most notably to his boyhood club Leeds United remain. I think Liverpool would be crazy to let him go this summer or next. And these are five reasons why.
1) His versatility
It’s something that has probably frustrated him over the years, getting shunted here, there and everywhere for the good of the team. But it’s such an asset to us. Having someone who can be a combative and creative midfielder one minute and a solid full back the next is invaluable to a team who like to think their way through games and react to situations they find themselves in.
Sometimes it isn’t completely clear where he is playing, only that he is effective. And show me a versatile player and I’ll show you an intelligent one. Someone who reads the game well and knows football, not just a defined role, inside out.
2) His penalties
This might seem like a small thing, but we’ve had some awful penalty takers over the years. In fact, there are a few knocking around the squad now. Should the Champions League Final go to penalties it’s probably only Milner who Liverpool fans will completely fancy to score. He’s probably the best we’ve had since another Leeds old boy, Gary McAllister. Both just looked supremely confident. Completely calm. Only a penalty isn’t it? Just stroke it in and have a glass of Ribena.
3) He’s only 33
People talk like he’s ancient. His “walking stick” celebration suggests he’s the recipient of old man jokes in the squad too, but if you look after yourself like Milner has it’s no age really. Using Gary McAllister as an example again, he was 35 by the time he signed for Liverpool and he didn’t do too badly.
Ryan Giggs went until he was 40.
Top players adapt their game. And Milner shows no sign of slowing down anyway.
4) He’s a leader
You can’t have too many. He’s the man Jurgen relies on when things aren’t going well, or we need to dig deep. He might not start every game, but the amount of times he’s been thrown on in a sticky situation to sort things out is numerous.
And the number of times he’s been on the scene when big moments happen late in games, countless. He might not start in Madrid. But he’ll be on the pitch when it matters.
5) He’s an example
James Milner became the Premier League’s youngest ever scorer in December 2002. His record was broken by James Vaughan for Everton in 2005. Vaughan is now playing for Wigan Athletic whilst Milner prepares for another showpiece final.
Young hype is no guarantee of a brilliant career. So many have fallen by the wayside. If the likes of Rhian Brewster want to go turn teenage promise into glittering careers, they could do a lot worse than to watch and listen to James Milner. Someone like that for young players to learn from is priceless.