Liverpool: Are we sure… James Milner can’t play forever?
He’s bossed the Premier League for 16 years, how many more can Milner manage?
Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Much like the sun coming up in the morning and going down at night, there’s something about James Milner lining up in a Premier League side that offers a sense of tranquility.
Since making his debut in 2002, Milner has made at least 18 appearances in every single top flight season. Quite the achievement.
Racking up 492 Premier League appearances in that time, the now 32-year-old doesn’t look like calling time on his playing career soon. Still fit and firing, he began the season in style with a Man of the Match display against West Ham United on Sunday.
Starting on the right foot
Lining up ahead of Georginio Wijnaldum and a touch behind Naby Keita in Liverpool’s midfield three, Milner picked up where he left off last season after playing a crucial role in the Reds’ Champions League run.
A constant threat to West Ham’s defence as he continuously occupied the half-space down Liverpool’s right. And Milner nearly picked up a smart assist early on as Sadio Mane came inches away from converting his chipped ball over the top.
He’d be rewarded for his patience just before half-time, diverting Andrew Robertson’s cross back to Mane for a tap-in as Jurgen Klopp’s men went two goals up.
Keeping things ticking in the second-half, Milner finished the game with 93% pass accuracy and set a marker for the likes of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Adam Lallana, all hoping to break into Liverpool’s midfield over the coming weeks.
It was a welcome start to his fourth season on Merseyside, where he’s established himself as something of a fan-favourite despite initial concerns about his wage packet when signing on a free from Manchester City.
The ultimate utility player
Deployed on the right of Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 in 2015-16, the experienced Englishman played a key role as the Reds reached the Europa League final before occupying the left-back spot a season later as Klopp guided Liverpool back into the Champions League with a fourth place finish.
Back in the Champions League last season, records were sent tumbling by both Liverpool and Milner, who broke the record for most ever assists in a season of the competition.
That’s all come after breaking through at Leeds United, impressing at Newcastle, making his name at Aston Villa and winning two Premier League titles at Manchester City. Not to mention his 61 England caps before retiring from the international scene in 2016.
Regularly top of the charts for kilometres ran during fixtures, there have been no signs of slowing down from Liverpool’s vice-captain. He’s got one year left to run on his Liverpool deal and you wouldn’t bet against it being extended, albeit on reduced wages from his current £150,000 per week pay packet.
Are we sure?
Milner’s still got the physique and talent to play in central midfield at a high level and would back himself to remain in England’s top division upon leaving Liverpool, likely when he’s 34.
There will come a time where such hard work takes its toll on the body, rendering the midfielder incapable of making his mark at the highest level. Even then you’d back him to contribute in a different role.
Whether a dream return to home club Leeds United is on the cards remains to be seen with the Yorkshire side heavily tipped for promotion under Marcelo Bielsa.
Having endeared himself to fanbases all over the land — not least through an exemplary Twitter account — he might find it right to call time on his distinguished career back where it all began.
How old he is when such a time comes about looks entirely up to him.
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