Only one man has won the Premier League title at both Liverpool and Manchester City. At the age of 37 and after 846 club games to date, there is every chance James Milner will turn out for the Merseyside club as they face the Premier League champions. It could be his last taste of this fixture.
Despite the sizable amount of football behind him, retirement is unlikely to be the reason Milner doesn’t play in future Manchester City vs Liverpool clashes. Rather, it is the matter of the midfielders contract that could make this his swansong.
Having signed a one-year extension last season, Milner’s renewed terms are almost up. Reports suggest that, while the club do intend to sit down with the player and discuss a renewal, it will not be happening imminently.
Manager Jurgen Klopp is understood to be very keen on keeping Milner at Anfield. Speaking after the player had impressed in an FA Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in January, Klopp called Milner “an incredibly important player” in his press conference. Expanding upon the England international’s future, Klopp said ”I am pretty sure the club should use his character and his mindset because it is really special.”
With Liverpool’s form continuing to be patchy and with much of the focus on their rickety midfield, Klopp’s loyalty to Milner long-term is being questioned. While most Liverpool fans are grateful for the ex-Leeds United man’s contributions in his eight years at Anfield, there is an acknowledgement that the club should look ahead.
Certainly, the Liverpool midfield is far from a position of strength. Arthur has featured just once since joining on loan from Juventus in the summer. Thiago has appeared in just 14 of Liverpool’s 26 Premier League games. Naby Keita has never really made good on the promise he showed in the Red Bull system at Salzburg and Leipzig. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been eroded by injuries. Jordan Henderson is 33 and not as influential as he once was. Curtis Jones looks a tidy squad member but is unlikely to ever go beyond that.
It’s not all bad news. Fabinho is 29 and has years left in his legs, but he has had to moonlight in defence at times. The midfielder who has given Kopites most reason to smile this year has been 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic. The Spain under-19 international has been a revelation when called upon, making a mockery of those wondering if it was too much too soon. Along with 19-year-old Harvey Elliott, there are reasons to be cheerful about Liverpool’s midfield future.
But for now it is the present that concerns fans and many of them feel like Milner shouldn’t be part of it. It is a rather ruthless attitude to take towards a player who has been a vital part of the club’s greatest modern successes. Even during ths season of abject dysfunction, Milner has played 32 games across all competitions. Supporters will have their own opinions of whether those frequent appearances are responsible for their current malaise, but in the end someone had to play. With so many other players either unavailable or unreliable, Milner has been a model of consistency.
Consistency is often a quality you only miss when it’s gone. Michael Carrick was never as underrated as the bi-weekly clickbait articles made out, but it is true that United fans appreciated what he gave them even more after he had retired. Gareth Barry was a similar steadying presence for both club and country.
While fans rage against Klopp, they need to realise Milner is not a barrier to signing Jude Bellingham or another top midfielder. If Liverpool do bring in an A-lister or two, you wouldn’t put it past Milner to extend his deal and serve as their back-up. He would be an able deputy. He might be playing his 21st club season, but the veteran isn’t quite done yet.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change