I like interviews with James Milner, he’s usually very honest and you don’t get any of that media twaddle. He comes across as an utterly likeable chap and I can imagine he’d be a real asset in a dressing room full of young players, such as ours. When you consider he’s had 16 assists and 7 goals this season, a more than respectable tally for any midfielder, it’s somewhat confusing that there are still those who doubt his ability. If Klopp’s body language is anything to go by he certainly values Milner’s contributions, and rightly so. Here is an interview that appeared in the Liverpool Echo on the 17th of May, 2016, prior to the Europa League final:
When James Milner left Manchester City for Liverpool last summer some questioned his ambition.
Tired of being regarded as a squad player at the Etihad, the England international insisted he wanted to prove he could spearhead the pursuit of honours.
Milner craved the central midfield role which had eluded him at City and was adamant that he had joined a club capable of adding to his trophy haul.
As the 30-year-old leads Liverpool out in the Europa League final against Sevilla, his decision has been vindicated emphatically.
Milner will be wearing the armband at the heart of Jurgen Klopp’s midfield in the Basel showpiece with the Reds just 90 minutes away from European glory.
“I’ve been delighted with this season,” Milner said. “When I moved club I said it was because I thought I had a chance of winning trophies.
“Obviously people would have thought I’d have more chance of doing that at City but we’ve given ourselves two chances this year.
“We fell short in the League Cup final so it’s important we get it this time.
“You can see the club moving forward. I was looking through the programme the other night and I think I am the third oldest player, and I’m only 30. It shows what a good young squad we have.”
It’s a far cry from the big finals Milner was involved with at Manchester City.
He was an unused substitute for the 2011 FA Cup win over Stoke City and then had to settle for a cameo role off the bench in their Wembley defeat to Wigan two years later.
Milner was also an unused substitute for the 2014 League Cup final triumph over Sunderland – despite Manuel Pellegrini later telling him he should have started.
It was those kind of snubs which convinced him to seek a fresh challenge.
“The one that stung me the most was when we had won the trophy and the manager came up to me and said: ‘I should have played you’,” Milner said.
“I thought that was a bit pointless – I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with that.
“That one probably hurt me the most.
“I think the time we pipped Liverpool to the title, I played in five or six of the last seven games and then missed out on the final one when we actually won it.
“They were the things that obviously I considered when I made the decision but that’s in the past now and I’m delighted to be at Liverpool.
“I feel as though I can get in a better rhythm when I play game after game.
“We’ve had that many games this year it’s just been about playing and recovering, and I feel that gets me in a rhythm a lot better.”
Milner, who has captained the Reds in the absence of Jordan Henderson, has clocked up 44 appearances during a season when he has been one of the unsung heroes in Liverpool’s march to the Europa League final.
After a difficult start to the campaign under Brendan Rodgers, his influence on the team has grown and grown during Klopp’s tenure.
“At the start of the season I know I wasn’t playing my best football, but it wasn’t for the want of trying,” he said.
“Throughout my career, for whatever reason, it’s taken time for me to start playing my best football wherever I’ve gone, and that was in my mind before I signed for Liverpool.
“I wanted to hit the ground running, but things didn’t quite click. Hopefully I’m showing my best form now and things will keep improving.
“I think a big reason to move was to play more football and not have any regrets at the end of my career, and get the most out of it.
“I’m 30 now, and although that’s not old, it’s probably the latter phase of my career, and I want to play as much as I can and look back and think I left nothing out there, no wasted games. You want to be remembered for what you’ve won and what sort of player you are.”
After 14 years of top-flight football, Milner is no stranger to upheaval and managerial changes. But he’s been blown away by how Klopp has transformed Liverpool’s fortunes over the past eight months.
“The hardest thing in football when the manager changes and I’ve had about 18 or 19 goes at that!” he said.
“All you can do is play well and train hard. If the manager rates you great, if not you just have to work harder to try and change his mind.
“Obviously I have worked with club legends, like say Kevin Keegan at Newcastle and Eddie Gray at Leeds.
“But in terms of a manager coming in from the outside, with no attachment to a club, I’ve not seen an impact like this.
“From that first press conference there was a real buzz about him.
“He’s different to other managers as well. Most don’t show as much emotion and he says things that maybe a lot of managers think, but won’t say.
“He is emotional and says what he thinks, rightly or wrongly. People can relate to that. It’s not an act, what he’s like on the side of the pitch or in the press conference, that’s just him as a guy. What you see is what you get.
“He seems to know when to blow his top and when to create a calmer atmosphere in the dressing room and use encouraging words.”
Milner has a reputation for being an honest workhorse but that label doesn’t do justice to his contribution going forward.
He’s had a hand in 23 goals in all competitions this season (16 assists, seven goals) but you won’t find the self-deprecating midfielder bemoaning a lack of recognition.
“It doesn’t bother me, I just want to contribute to the team,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve been able to create chances for people.
“I probably don’t move as gracefully as people like Phil (Coutinho). I’m a geezer in his mining boots from Yorkshire, lumping across the field!
“It might not always look pretty but as long as I’m contributing to the team that’s the main thing.”
What a finale awaits at St Jakob-Park. James Milner – Liverpool captain and wearing the iconic No 7 shirt in a European final.
“Every single time you represent Liverpool, you realise what a big club it is,” he added.
“I know the No 7 shirt is a big deal here. But I don’t mind the pressure of taking that shirt on because it takes it away from someone else.
“There’s pressure on you every time you step out on that field and no-one puts more pressure on me than me.”