As England slumped to an ignominious and totally shocking defeat against minnows Iceland, there was one player on the sidelines totally helpless to do anything to prevent his team from humiliation.
One player whose experience and reliability would have been pivotal in an encounter where England were totally devoid of ideas and inspiration. One player who could actually cross a ball. That player is, of course, a certain James Milner.
Milner could only watch from the bench as England manager Roy Hodgson threw on inferior players like Jack Wilshere in blind hope with little sign of any improvement.
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Back to Liverpool matters, there were a few raised eyebrows at Anfield when Brendan Rodgers had appointed Milner vice-captain before he had even kicked a ball in the famous Red shirt. Most supporters had bought into his reputation - just like Hodgson did - of an “unskilled workhorse” only fit to play a supporting role.
But over the course of last season, an admiration began to develop for Milner, as a player and a professional. With his straightforward, no-nonsense nature and sheer endurance, Milner was a mainstay in the Liverpool team last year and deservedly so.
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However, there are a lot of people like Hodgson who believe that Milner is not “fashionable” enough to play for such a big club like Liverpool or indeed England. With Sadio Mane coming in and Jordan Henderson coming back to full fitness, many think the 30-year-old will be relegated to the role of a squad player but it is still worth pointing out how Milner can still play a vital part for Jurgen Klopp's’ Reds team next season.
Firstly, emphasis must be placed on the fact that with Kolo Toure’s departure, Milner is the only person in the team with experience of winning something from his stint with Manchester City.
In a team which has been described as “bottlers” numerous times in the past, Milner is the only player who has “been there” and “done that”. With Lucas Leiva and Martin Skrtel on the periphery of the Reds squad, Milner serves as the most experienced head.
As Klopp looks to build his new empire at Liverpool, a player of Milner’s pedigree is vital. At Dortmund, even though the German's team consisted of young and relatively unknown players, he still had the experience of players such Roman Weidenfeller to depend on.
Secondly, it is Milner’s calmness under pressure that makes him such a valuable asset. The most cogent example for this is his assist for Dejan Lovren’s winner in the thrilling 4-3 win against Borussia Dortmund.
With the clock ticking down, Milner had the ball on the line and had to get it right. He could have easily panicked and fluffed his lines but his cross was inch perfect for Lovren who did the rest. If any other Liverpool player was faced with the same situation, there is a 99% chance it would have gone to waste. Milner had the composure to take his time and pick out the right option when many others would not have.
It is this composure that has made Milner a very important creative asset and perhaps Liverpool’s most important asset last season.
Compare him with Adam Lallana, a player in the same team, for example. There is no doubt that Lallana is more skilful and technically adept as opposed to Milner but the fact remains the latter finished with more goals and assists in fewer games than his England teammate.
Milner managed a total of 16 goals/assists in the league last year as opposed to Lallana who managed 10. As the stats show, Milner might not be fashionable but there’s no doubting he gets the job done and better than those that are supposedly technically superior to him.
Milner is also a master of an increasingly obsolete art - crossing. Even though the Rafa Benitez era has been long gone, Milner has shown us that crossing can be an important weapon of any arsenal. How many times have we seen Liverpool players get into good positions only for the final ball to go astray?
Liverpool had one of the worst chance conversion rates last season but Milner always served as a constant outlet. As England were hopelessly and aimlessly lumping balls into the box against Iceland, they neglected their best crosser to the sidelines. Here’s hoping Liverpool do not do the same.
When Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool, he called Milner the “perfect footballer” and while obviously, that is a bit of an exaggeration, the manager's sentiment holds merit.
The underestimated Englishman is the kind of player who you appreciate only when he is not playing. Although Liverpool are being linked with more fashionable names day-in-day-out, there is no doubt that when push comes to shove, James Milner will play a vital part in the success of this Liverpool team.
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