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The Player Behind the Name: James Milner, Part One

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The first in a three-part segment on Liverpool’s dynamic number seven

Huddersfield Town v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

James Philip Milner was born in the industrial district of Wortley in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England on 4 January 1986. James showed his sporting versatility from a very young age and excelled at football, cricket and long-distance running, representing his school in all three sports. He was the cross-country champion for his school for three years running and played cricket for West Yorkshire schools. James was described as an outstanding football talent and aside from playing for his primary (middle) school, he also played football for amateur teams from Rawdon and Horsforth in West Yorkshire. In 1996, at the age of ten, James joined the Leeds United Youth Academy after being spotted by a scout while playing for Horsforth team, Westbrook Juniors.

Milner’s football career, before Liverpool

Leeds United
Having excelled in his game as an academy player at Leeds, James made his Premier League debut on 10 November 2002 as the second youngest ever PL player (at the age of 16 years and 309 days), when he came on as a substitute against West Ham. At the age of 16 years and 356 days, James became the Premier League’s youngest ever goal scorer when he scored against Sunderland in a 2 – 1 win on 26 December 2002 and held that record until 10 April 2005 when it was broken by James Vaughan on his Everton debut at 16 years and 271 days. Milner won widespread praise during his fledgling season and Claudio Rainieri (who was Chelsea’s manager at the time) remarked that he played like a much more experienced footballer. On 10 February 2003, Milner signed a five-year contract with Leeds United and was sent on a one-month loan to Second Division team, Swindon Town at the start of the 2003-2004 season, playing in six matches and scoring two goals. The chairman of Leeds at the time had referred to James Milner as the “Future of Leeds” and despite selling many first team players that season, insisted that James would not be sold. However, with mounting financial problems and the club’s subsequent relegation at the end of the 2003-04 season, they were forced to sell Milner to Newcastle United. Although Milner was upset by the sale, he understood that it was in his boyhood club’s best interest and signed a five-year deal with the Magpies in July 2004.

Newcastle United
Milner made his club debut for Newcastle during their pre-season tour of Asia and scored his first goal in a 1 – 1 draw against Kitchee in Hong Kong and had the opportunity to play alongside Alan Shearer. On 18 August 2004, Milner made his first Premier League appearance for the club and played as a right winger, despite having played mainly on the left during his time at Leeds. He remarked that he had no preference for where he played on the pitch, when he was asked about the new position. In September 2004, Milner made his European competition debut in Newcastle’s UEFA Cup match against Israeli team, Bnei Sakhnin and later that month scored his first competitive goal for the club in a 3 – 1 win over West Brom. With the arrival of Graeme Souness after Bobby Robson was sacked, James found his game time affected; starting only 13 league matches and playing just one full 90-minute match in April 2005. At the time, Souness had controversially remarked that the club would not win with a team of James Milners’. Despite his excellent run of form in the UEFA Intertoto Cup and goals scored at the start of the 2005-2006 season, Milner was loaned out to Aston Villa at the end of August 2005 for the rest of that season as a result of a contract clause in Newcastle’s purchase of Nolberto Solano from Aston Villa.

Aston Villa (loan spell)
On 10 September 2005, James Milner made his Aston Villa debut in their Premier League match against West Ham United and scored his first goal for the club in a 1-1 draw in the PL, against Tottenham Hotspur and followed this with two more goals in Villa’s 8 – 3 win over Wycombe Wanderers in the League Cup. The loan signing of Milner was viewed as a great positive for Villa in an otherwise disappointing season for the club and he was keen to make the move a permanent one due to the prospect of regular first team football. Talks of a potential deal fell through when then chairman, David O’ Leary left Villa with the club lacking sufficient transfer funding. However, with the takeover by American billionaire Randy Lerner, as well as the appointment of Martin O’Neill as first team manager, the deal was revived and Villa’s offer for Milner was accepted by Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd on 30 August 2006. For all intents and purposes, a move had been agreed, but, Newcastle recalled James at the eleventh hour causing the deal to collapse, and thus, he began the 2006-07 season as a Magpie once again.

To be continued…

International career

Youth
James Milner represented England at under-15 and under-17 levels and having scored 13 goals, he received a call up to the under-20 (u20) side, two months before his 18th birthday for the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship. He went on to make six appearances for the u20 side, scoring four goals. Subsequently, he was called up to the under-21 side (u21) and made his debut against Sweden on 30 March 2004 and scored his first goal for the side shortly thereafter during a qualification match for the u21 UEFA European Championship.

Milner played in all four of England’s matches in the 2007 UEFA European U21 Championship, was one of only three players (the other two being Joe Hart and captain Steven Taylor) to have played in all of the qualifiers for the 2009 UEFA European U21 Championship and was in the final 23 man squad for the 2009 UEFA European U21 Championship held in Sweden. He played his final match as an u21 in the final of the Championship against Germany, who went on to beat England 4 – 0. Milner scored nine goals as a player for the u21s and his 46 appearances for the side are a national record.

To be continued…

Stay tuned for The Player Behind the Name: James Milner, Part Two, where we’ll continue the story of Milner’s football career before Liverpool, his senior career as an England international and look at what makes James such a rarity in the modern game.

Up the Reds!