It’s hard to say how Liverpool’s 2016-17 season would have ended up if James Milner didn’t step up and play left back when asked. A horror show in the 2016 Europa League final followed by a idiosyncratically hare-brained performance in the season-opening win over Arsenal had taken the club’s only specialist at the time in Alberto Moreno out of the running and Jürgen Klopp in need of a replacement.
Out of viable options, the German manager turned to Milner who mind you, had turned down more money at Manchester City the season prior in an attempt shed the label of “utility man” and play in central midfield. In fairness, the request for the ex-England international to become first choice left back was not a completely unexpected, as the Englishman had spelled in defense during the prior campaign when needed.
Nevertheless, as the now-32 year old tells it, the familiarity with the topic of discussion that day in Klopp’s office didn’t make it any easier to swallow:
“I think the first time I had to play at left-back was at Manchester United in the Europa League,” the Reds vice-captain recently told Four Four Two magazine.
“Alberto Moreno was injured and the manager gave me a choice: did I want to play at left-back or right-back?
“My answer was, ‘That’s like asking which one of these guys do you want to spend a night with your missus?!’ His English wasn’t that good then, so I think it went over his head!”
As one may have surmised, Milner was not exactly popping the Ribena at the prospect of spending a season providing all of the attacking width on his off foot while providing defensive cover for a Dejan Lovren who was even more erratic at the time than of recent. Fortunately for Klopp and the squad, the Leeds-born journeyman shouldered one for the team and played a major role in Liverpool securing Champions League football with a last-gasp 4th-place finish.
Young footballers, be like James Milner.