The ultimate antithesis of the modern-day, social media-obsessed footballer, James Milner shuns the spotlight, keeps his head down, and quietly gets on with business. He’s a player more commonly associated with terms like ‘hard-working’ and ‘tenacious’ than ‘flashy’ or ‘brilliant’, and his relatively low-key attitude and style of play have led to him becoming one of the most underrated Premier League players of the last decade.
When most people talk about the versatile Liverpool midfielder, they’ll bring up topics like the ‘Boring Milner’ parody Twitter account or discuss how he’s the sort of old-fashioned English midfielder who always puts in a lot of effort, without really noting his long list of achievements, innate technical ability, faultless professionalism, and fantastic footballing brain.
Never will Milner be compared to the mercurial magicians of the Premier League like David Silva or Kevin de Bruyne, yet last season, at the age of 32, the former Aston Villa man set a new Champions League record, providing an astonishing nine assists for his teammates as the Anfield outfit made it all the way to the final, and that’s just one example of how important he’s been at his current club.
Many players tend to peak around the age of 27, their form waxing and waning over time, but Milner has been astonishingly consistent and simply gotten better past the age of 30, with his three years at Liverpool arguably the most impressive spell of his career. His drive and dedication have been invaluable over the years, especially on Merseyside where Jürgen Klopp’s high-intensity pressing game is absolutely reliant on players like the Yorkshireman.
Without the 2010 PFA Young Player of the Year among their ranks, it’s easy to imagine that Liverpool wouldn’t have enjoyed such a great 2017-18 season and wouldn’t have started this one so brightly either. While many football fans are routinely dazzled by the dribbling skills and flair of Milner’s teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, the 61-cap England man constantly flies under the radar.
Even at international level, Milner was overshadowed by the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, but always performed admirably for the Three Lions, and that’s been a real theme of his career on the whole. Milner has never been the star man, often moved around into different roles to accommodate the flashier, fancier players, but he’s focused on his football and thrived in the shadows, always giving 100% in every game he plays.
He might not spray his hair different colours every week and he’ll prefer a classic fist-pump when celebrating a goal rather than busting out the latest dance craze, but when it comes to pure footballing talent, Milner deserves a lot more credit than he gets. Before this season began, it was believed that the big money arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho would force the former Leeds man out of the first eleven, but he’s started almost all of Liverpool’s matches so far.
During the season so far, he’s already top of the table among his Liverpool teammates in terms of distance covered, successful tackles, and recoveries, as well as continuing to be a creative force by providing more passes into the final third than any other player. In short, he’s as important as ever and continues to be a priceless part of one of the strongest sides in Europe.
Milner might not be a prolific goalscorer and isn’t known for his Neymar-esque dribbling, but football isn’t all about fancy footwork and 30-yard volleys. It’s easy to see how the ‘Boring Milner’ clichés have affected public perception of him, but when you actually look at his stats and performances out on the pitch, it’s hard to find anyone.