I think we all owe James Milner an apology.
Over the years – especially recently, now that it’s become a thing – we’ve probably all laughed along whenever someone says: “oh, boring old James Milner, is he even on the pitch?”
Crikey, even Gary Lineker admits it.
But in Liverpool’s win over Spurs on Saturday – their fifth win of the season, maintaining their 100% record so far this term and giving them their best start to a campaign for 28 years – Milner was once again exceptional in midfield.
Playing alongside the dazzling Naby Keita and goalscorer Georginio Wijnaldum, it’s perhaps difficult to notice the 32-year-old at times as his performances don’t always earn him the same headlines as his colleagues.
But he was easily one of their best players at Wembley, recovering the ball eight times, winning five tackles and producing three key passes in the match.
The stats aren’t exactly sexy, but he’s undoubtedly the engine in a side that look very good for the title this season.
A few weeks ago – when the Reds faced Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park – Milner was named captain and scored the opener with a penalty in their eventual win, becoming the first player in Premier League history to score eight goals in a row from the spot – perhaps once again serving as a reminder to his ‘Boring James Milner’ moniker.
But of course, it’s just easier to call him boring.
After all, he doesn’t have the same effortless technical ability of David Silva or the creative excellence of Christian Eriksen or Kevin De Bruyne.
Plus, he’s very plainly English, keeps his head down, does his work and doesn’t cause any drama on or off the pitch.
It’s almost as if he’s become a victim of his own lack of newsworthiness.
But we should be talking about the years he’s been playing at the very top level, racking up honours and individual accolades and records that range from two Premier League winners medals, all the way through to the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2010.
He was even the Premier League’s youngest-ever goalscorer at one time, netting for Leeds at the age of 16 to surpass Wayne Rooney’s record, only to be over-taken by current record-holder James Vaughan in 2005.
But it’s his consistency and longevity that impresses us the most.
With Leeds, Milner made his Premier League debut way back in 2002, coming off the bench in a game against West Ham to become the second youngest player ever to play in the league.
Since then, spells at Newcastle, Aston Villa, Man City and now Liverpool have seen him accumulate nearly 500 appearances in the Premier League.
Ever the first-team regular wherever he’s played, he’s reached 25-appearances or more in a top-flight season 15 times, which includes his role as one of Aston Villa’s main attacking outlets between 2007 and 2010, and as a constant presence in Man City’s title-winning sides of 2011–12 and 2013–14.
Now at Liverpool, he’s established himself as a beacon of leadership and adaptability.
Especially in recent years under Klopp, when he’s been switched about to strengthen various areas of the Reds line-up, including in the the wing-back and full-back positions.
Although not known for his goal-scoring ability, Milner has never lost a game in which he’s scored in – with his goal against Palace on Monday stretching that record further.
Last season was perhaps the tip of the iceberg, as he became a key member of the side that reached the Champions League final, providing a record nine assists along the way.
Klopp summed up his record brilliantly before the final in May, saying: “I’ve heard that people have this hashtag for him – Boring Milner – and he responds to it.
“It’s nice for him to have this record. You have all these world class players and the man who shows up with the most assists is James Milner. That is really cool. I’m happy for him.”
His reliability and tenacity rubbed off with the national team as well, earning 61 caps for England between 2009 to 2016.
Before that, he made a national record 46 appearances for England’s Under-21 side and played in the team that made the final of the 2009 European Championships.
Far too often, we complain about English players failing to fulfil their potential after shining at a young age, but Milner shone brighter and longer in his youth than most and should be heralded for becoming the player he is today.
Unfortunately, people think he’s just a bit boring, but we think he’s one of the most underrated players of his generation.
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