James Milner to Liverpool on a free transfer. Even those eight words sound sensible, never mind the actual deal which is expected to be provisionally agreed later this week. What kind of madness is this?
This is Liverpool we’re talking about, after all, the club who spent £100m on Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana. The club who are the butt of plenty of Twitter jokes about ‘imminent £50m bids’ whenever a young Englishman beats the first man from a corner. The club of the shady transfer committee, the wasting of the Luis Suarez money, the missing out on targets to Premier League rivals. James Milner and his solid, steady, James Milner-ness don’t belong here.
The fact that he’s about to says an awful lot for both the Reds and the player, though.
In Liverpool’s post-Steven Gerrard times, stability, energy and a strong character are going to be vital qualities, and if you cut Milner open you wouldn’t be surprised to see such words scrawled all the way through him.
Of course he’s not a superstar in the mould of the departing captain, but frankly who is?
Gerrard was all things to all Liverpudlians, but in Milner they’ll have a player they know they can rely on, and one who could well flourish if he takes on a leadership role in a young group who are short on experienced heads. Indeed, it would be no surprise if he were to end up taking Gerrard’s captain’s armband ahead of Jordan Henderson, who is four-and-a-half years younger and could be allowed to develop his game without the added pressure that captaincy brings.
If, as now looks extremely likely, Milner is leaving Manchester City behind there will be a great sense of loss at the Etihad Stadium.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini was effusive in his praise of the Englishman when it became apparent that his head had been turned by interest from Anfield, saying that he felt “a feeling of injustice” whenever he was forced to leave him out of his star-studded team. Words like “intelligent, great mentality and very technical” tumbled from the mouth of the Chilean, who also declared himself to be “Milner’s No. 1 fan.”
Not enough of a fan to ensure he stayed at the club obviously, but you get the feeling that he did everything he could to try and make that happen, with the offer of money-spinning new contract not enough to tempt Milner to take his City career into a sixth season and beyond.
The acceptance of less money, no Champions League football and entry into something of the unknown at Liverpool – who are once again staring at the drawing board in their reserved parking space at Square One – is being viewed as Milner making a decision which will allow him to play in his preferred position of central midfield, another sensible choice and a welcome antidote to the current craze of sticking around in bloated squads rather than taking your chances elsewhere.
At 29 these should be the years that Milner’s many qualities blossom, and he’ll feel that they’ll have the best chance of doing that if he plays every week in the same position.
He’s earned the right to do that through years of being shunted around from pillar to post both at club and international level, but having just made more appearances and scored more goals than he’d ever done for City in a single season before, he’s making his move from a position of strength.
At Liverpool they’ll have every right to feel somewhat giddy about their sensible new arrival, especially given that the vast majority of new signings at the club over the past few seasons have proven to be anything but that.
In contrast to them, it would be a great surprise if Milner didn’t prove to be anything other than a good addition, and he represents a welcome arrival of sensibility at a club who need that now more than ever.
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