‘That’s why I came here’ – James Milner’s Man City decision vindicated at Liverpool

Few could have envisioned what was in James Milner’s future when he left Manchester City for Liverpool.

It was the summer of 2015 when the versatile midfielder decided to pack his bags and move to Merseyside. After a decorated spell at the Etihad saw him win two Premier League titles alongside an FA Cup and League Cup, many neutrals may viewed his switch as something of a step down.

Maybe not in terms of the profile of the club he was joining, but at as his 30th birthday came into view, Brendan Rodgers’ Reds did not appear to be challenging City for the biggest honors in English football anytime soon.

Like he so often has in a top-flight career that has stretched to 20 years, Milner refused to take the easy road. He could have chosen to stay at City, in relative comfort, playing a bit-part role in what is as close to guaranteed success as it’s possible to have in football before allowing the sun to set on his glittering years as a footballer.

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That, though, is simply not the Milner way. Instead, pastures new were sought after and nearly seven years on from that decision to move to Anfield, Milner now stands as the vice-captain of a Liverpool side that has won more than City did during his time at the Etihad.

So, could he have ever envisioned the way it has turned out since that switch from Manchester just a few short months before Jurgen Klopp’s arrival?

“That’s why I came here,” he says inside Wembley, fresh from lifting the FA Cup. “That was the hope, it was part of the drive. When I went to City they hadn’t won anything for a long time and it was great to be part of that, the start of their success, winning leagues and cups.

“Liverpool is an incredible club with incredible history, but it hadn’t been as successful, hadn’t won the Premier League, which was baffling. That was the aim, and if we could do that, win a Premier League here, that would be special. It’s a process, and the process has been incredible.”

Milner may not be a regular starter now at the age of 36, but his enduring influence over this quadruple-chasing squad should never be overlooked. He is the standard-setter who leads by example, asking that his colleagues give it their all before he demands even more.

Alongside club captain Jordan Henderson, they are the two who relentlessly set the tone for a hard-pressing Liverpool squad that are refusing to yield as they close in on history and their 61st game of the campaign at Southampton on Tuesday night.

“He is someone who keeps us all on our toes,” says Trent Alexander-Arnold. “He is massive in that dressing room. He is one of the biggest characters I have been in and around and it is credit to him. It is no surprise he has carried on winning everywhere he goes because he is relentless in what he does. He instills that mentality in us and he embodies that.”

Despite being accurately described as a ‘veteran’ for some years now in the Premier League, Milner’s desire remains undiluted from the early years at Leeds when he became the second-youngest player to make his debut in the division aged 16 years and 309 days. Only Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry have made more outfield appearances in the current top flight.

A player whose professional tenure has spanned over 800 games, Milner made his 287th for the Reds when he replaced Naby Keita with 15 minutes to go in normal time of that 6-5 penalty shootout win over Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.

Like the Carabao Cup final at the same venue at the end of February, Liverpool again found a way to ensure it was their name carved on to the trophy as they secured a domestic double with eyes still on the Premier League and the Champions League final to come in Paris on May 28.

“Experience helps,” Milner says of the latest triumph. “Going through those things before as a group helps. Having incredible fans helps, filling half the stadium. But it comes from the manager. Since he’s been here, the group of players he has, the desire and the way we train.

“It starts from pre-season, the double sessions. It’s like: ‘are we going again? Are we going again?’. There’s no session, not one session where you feel like ‘wow, that was really hard!’ They’re all pretty tough! It’s just relentless, and that’s where it starts. In pre-season it’s like ‘we go again, we go this afternoon, then tomorrow morning’ and so on. That’s why we can keep going.

“The group, the manager, the experience of being there before without big players. If you go back to Barcelona, ​​that famous night (in the Champions League semi-final in 2019), look at the players who were missing then. That shows a great mentality within the squad, it shows how well we train, how well we’re coached.

“If you miss those players for half a season, it’s going to be tough, but everyone is ready to go even if they haven’t played for a while. Look at last season, just to get into the Champions League, the players who were playing centre-half. We changed it around and we found a way, and that’s got us to a Champions League final.”

Liverpool’s celebrations were confined to the dressing room only as they made their back to the north west on Saturday night. With a Premier League title still within their grasp and that European Cup showdown with Real Madrid in under a fortnight, a toast of any success will have to wait.

Milner adds: “It was probably harder if you go back six weeks. But we’ve got three games left now. All the stuff we’ve been through, training, games, recovering, travelling, with three games left, if you’ re on one leg it’s worth going through!

“The amount of games, the short turnaround, you can never be too high or too down. We’ve just won the FA Cup. Would you like to celebrate more than we will? Yes, we would, but we can’t afford to do that.

“That’s the tough thing about being at this level, you maybe can’t afford to enjoy your successes as much as you’d like to. You win a trophy and it’s like ‘when’s the next game?’ You win the last game, you win the Premier League and you can enjoy it for three weeks on your holiday, then it’s pre-season and you have to go again.

“That’s probably the one thing you regret in your career, that you don’t enjoy it as much as you should. But that’s part of being successful; you have to be focused and move on to the next one.”

The next one, as it goes, just happens to be the Premier League title. Victory at Southampton will ensure that a 20th crown can still be snatched away from under the noses of City on the final day this Sunday.

Liverpool’s relentless season rolls on, but Milner wouldn’t have it any other way. To the south coast it is then.


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