The 36-year-old has many options ahead of him. But what path will he take?
James Milner. Reliability, utility and Ribena are some of the first words that come to mind, the latter being a popular drink in the U.K. that seems to not only keep you regular when it comes to bodily functions but also a regular in the first team for Liverpool. A drink that Milner was quoted as saying he may “stretch himself out to” after a win in the Champions League over Roma.
But after a long and winding career, it appears the curtains may close on his journey spanning 800 appearances in all competitions. His most recent appearance was as a substitute against Inter Milan in the Round of 16 in the Champions League.
A far cry from making his debut with Leeds in 2002 at 16 years and 309 days old (second youngest to make a Premier League appearance at the time, eclipsed now by teammate Harvey Elliott at 16 years and 30 days for Fulham).
James, if you are reading this, we are both very pleased and honored that you are a subscriber to our articles, but the subsequent writing may not be your favorite read of the day.
As a Liverpool fan, the free transfer of James Milner from Manchester City to Liverpool in the summer 2015 was an important addition to the club. We had just lost our leader; the talisman Steven Gerrard in January and we lacked a captain without much leadership experience. Milner was named vice-captain behind Jordan Henderson the following season and the club seemed to have somewhat filled a leadership void.
Coming from an aggressive Manchester City squad, they had given James Milner a few notches in his belt to admire, most notably two Premier League titles and an FA Cup.
He continued to build on his past successes while at Liverpool, winning the Champions League and Premier League over two seasons. He also holds the record for most assists in a Champions League season, beating out Neymar with nine assists.
Not bad for an ageing midfielder playing in an ever-quickening game. English football pundits are smiling everywhere.
Sounds great, right? Yes, and mostly no.
When called upon, Milner does exactly as he’s told. A manager’s dream, the embodiment of a Swiss Army Knife on the pitch. Play left back for an entire season? Done. Ride the bench and come on as a closer with less than 10 minutes left? Sure, boss. But if you look through the cracks, Milner’s physicality and ability to keep up with the game the last few years has been sobering viewing.
Even when coming on in the final moments in games, he is unable to keep up with the pace of the game, bump shoulders with opposition players and have any real impact directing the flow of a game, all attributes of a central midfielder. These are not the qualities of a player playing at their peak for one of the best teams in Europe.
So, to answer the question this article originally posed, where will James Milner end up? With whisperings of a new one-year contract being offered by Liverpool, this worries some fans of the club, including myself. With every passing game, seeing him come on in the dying embers of a match can lead to a period of domination by the opposition and him making the starting eleven makes me think Klopp isn’t taking the match seriously.
An alternate route out of playing is a path into management. This is very much a mind over body approach to easing Milner into a coaching role. In this case, the mind is sharper than the body and as we saw with Steven Gerrard’s management of the U-23’s, it can lead to good management experience for the future.
James, you’ve had an incredible run. Nobody will ever take your records or trophies away from you. Do yourself a favor and swap your boots for a clipboard or a spot next to Carragher and Neville on Sky.
We hope to see you around the training ground soon.