Liverpool have done enough business so far to be looking forward instead of wondering why certain players were moved on or allowed to go. Roberto Firmino, Nathaniel Clyne, and James Milner make Liverpool's first eleven a stronger and more complete unit. Clyne is considerably superior to what Liverpool could call upon in the right back position last season and Firmino's game is more mature than that of Raheem Sterling, Lazar Marković, or Jordon Ibe. Then there's James Milner.
While it's unwise to label any existing or incoming player as the replacement for Steven Gerrard, Milner has taken a shirt number that has a history and will presumably be one of Jordan Henderson's midfield partners. This isn't a move to increase depth in the squad or enable the new club captain to rest every so often: Milner is here to start games. As pre-season action kicks off this week, Liverpool fans are seeing Rodgers become more visible after his summer break. The former Manchester City utility player confirmed that Rodgers thinks his "best position is in the middle" after "playing all over the field" for Raheem Sterling's future club. What may be of interest is the role Rodgers had in bringing the reliable midfielder to Anfield.
"Brendan had a massive role," Milner revealed. "Obviously the club does not need selling, but I spoke to the manager about his plans for the team and for myself. He knew a lot about me. After the conversation, I felt like I wanted to go and run through a brick wall for the manager and the club. He's that sort of manager. It's a huge club and Man City, maybe over the course of history, isn't as quite as big as Liverpool. I could have easily stayed at City for another four or five years, being around the club, helping us win things. But over the next few years my game time would have reduced. When I'm older I want to look back and say that I became the best player I could."
After the contracts of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson expired, how many players in the squad could be described as experienced enough to be leaders in the dressing room? Probably a handful, and Rodgers sensibly targeted Milner to provide experience, nous, and reliability to the midfield area. Maybe Milner is just saying what fans, players, and staff want to hear. That could be a possibility even for someone as grounded as Liverpool's new number seven, but there hasn't been too many empty platitudes from the player since moving to the club. He knows what he's about and understands what he can offer. Unnecessary praise or guff doesn't seem to be his style, but it's reassuring to know that Milner understands the role he is to play at the club.
"Only one person can wear the armband, but you need so many leaders out there," Milner said in probable acknowledgement of Highlander theory. "It's a big role for me coming in as a more experienced player and leading by example. You need those leaders all over the field and that's massively important. The manager has spoken to me about that and he sees I can do that role. I've been around at this level since I was 16 and I've been lucky enough to win trophies. If I can use my experience to help the younger guys along that's what I'll do. There's a lot of football left in me and hopefully I'll be a part of a massively successful period."
James Milner is exactly what Liverpool need.
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