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James Milner: A man for all seasons

Update: December, 13/2018 - 09:00
True pro: Liverpool midfielder James Milner who has played 500 times in the Premier League. AFP Photo
Viet Nam News

by Paul Kennedy

The year 2002 seems like an entire lifetime away, but quite a lot happened.

Halle Berry won an Oscar, the first black actress to do so. Michael Jackson dangled his baby son from the balcony of a Berlin hotel room and Apple released their second generation iPod.

For the first time that year, a mobile phone was released with a built-in camera and Kelly Clarkson won the debut series of American Idol.

Something else happened in 2002 as well. In November, on the 10th day to be precise.

During a football match between Leeds United and West Ham, with just six minutes to go, a 16-year-old kid came on to the pitch wearing the white of Leeds, his home town club.

The player’s name was James Milner.

A month later, just a few days short of his 17th birthday, Milner scored his first ever goal in the Premier League against Sunderland. At the time he was the youngest ever player to score in the top division.

Last Saturday Milner played his 500th Premier League game. That’s more than Manchester United’s Paul Scholes (499), Chelsea’s John Terry (492) and almost twice as many as David Beckham.

He is also the second youngster behind Gareth Barry to have made 500 or more Premier League appearances.

Milner did so with five clubs; Leeds, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City and now Liverpool.

He has won a thing or two as well. Two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup. He has also played in Champions and Europa League finals.

On Saturday against Bournemouth he played at right-back, a position he’s not known for starting in. He never moaned or complained, but instead just got on with the job at hand.

Mo Salah scored three that game and was awarded man of the match. He refused to accept it, instead handing the prize over to Milner.

Milner is married to a woman called Amy who we rarely see plastered across the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. They have two children but only those close will know who they are, and I doubt they are named after cities in America.

His arms, legs, back and neck are not covered in tattoos and we never see him falling out of nightclubs at daft o’clock in the morning.

He is the ultimate professional and Liverpool FC are blessed to have him.

Milner was once asked by manager Jurgen Klopp did he prefer playing at left-back or right-back? Milner said the question was like being asked which one of his friends would he like to sleep with his wife. In other words, neither!

But without fuss or fight he spent an entire season at left-back for Liverpool and made that position his own. 

This season he has been a revelation.

Liverpool signed midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho for a jaw-dropping 100 million pounds (VNĐ4 trillion) in the summer but it’s the 32-year-old from Wortley in Yorkshire who is getting more game time. 

He has quit international football to concentrate on maximizing his twilight years as a professional with his club, and that can only spell good news for Liverpool supporters.

At his age, especially as he keeps himself so fit, I’ve no doubt Milner has three or four good seasons left in him.

He has not lost any of his spark and still plays games with the tenacity and ferocity of that young kid he once was in the early days of his career with Leeds United.

In the all-time top charts of most appearances ever in the Premier League, Gareth Barry leads the way (652) followed by Ryan Giggs (632) and Frank Lampart (609).

Will Milner catch them? Probably not. Is he currently the most important, dedicated and hardworking player in Liverpool’s squad? Yes, he probably is.

One thing that is a certainty though, if a young player is looking for a role model in football, then they should look no further than James Milner. — VNS

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