Without any particular fuss or drama, Liverpool have locked down their first summer signing, with James Milner agreeing terms to make the switch to Anfield from Manchester City on a free when the transfer window officially opens on July 1st. He moves to Liverpool in search of more regular playing time, though he was hardly a fringe player at City, and one would be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t think his signing makes Liverpool a better side.
He’s not the most exciting potential transfer target out there, but he’s almost certainly one who will improve Liverpool’s starting eleven.
DOB: 4/1/86 (29) | Height: 5’9" (1.75 meters)
2014-15 Season: 44 appearances
8 goals, 9 assists
Strengths: Milner is one of the most complete midfielders in the Premier League, but he’s most identified—and most lauded—for his work-rate and game intelligence. Hard working, tireless, and both willing and able to take on nearly any role that isn’t centre half or striker, Milner ticks many of the same boxes as current Liverpool midfielder and presumptive next captain Jordan Henderson.
The similarities to Henderson don’t stop with work-rate and game intelligence, though, and across the board he rather looks a slightly more polished and confident version of Liverpool’s number 14 in the middle of the park. Henderson has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years, but James Milner at his best—and as a very consistent player he most often is—remains the player many fans hope Henderson will become next season.
Milner started his career out wide, though, and while not a player prone to attempting flashy step-overs, he’s an effective dribbler and can beat a man using his technical skill. While not the fastest, his reading of the game also means he’s good at spotting the gaps and positioning himself to catch out defenders, and he excels at breakaing down packed defences—whether he’s the man playing the final pass or receiving it.
His close control, vision, and finishing ability are also well above average for a midfielder, and allied to his match intelligence make for a player who rarely makes bad choices or turns the ball over cheaply. Meanwhile, without the ball Milner is tireless, and his presence opposite Jordan Henderson as the shuttlers in a diamond midfield could allow the side to carry a deep lying playmaker who isn’t a defensive specialist.
Weaknesses: As a fully formed, versatile, veteran playmaker, Milner has few real weaknesses. Perhaps the only notable shortcoming to his game is that he lacks top end speed, but having been able to consistently overcome that weakness throughout his career due to his ability to read the game and opponents means that shouldn’t be an issue unless Liverpool seek to play him out wide in a counter-attacking game.
It should also mean that despite being near the tail end of what for most footballers are their prime years, Milner should have at least two to three seasons of top football left, particularly in more central areas where he still has more than enough speed to join the attack late as secondary support. Even after that, his technical skills, vision, and game intelligence will likely make him a useful player four or five years down the road.
Whether he’s still a Liverpool player in four or five years is an open question, but it should mean that despite his age he will have significant resale value should he begin to drop down Liverpool’s midfield depth chart. That, along with the fact he’s taking a pay cut to move to Liverpool for the playing time, means if the day comes when he is no longer justifying his wages it’s unlikely the club will end up stuck with a high earner on the bench.
Summation: James Milner may not be an exciting player, but he’s good. Very good. He has consistently made one of the richest sides in club football better when he’s on the pitch, has the tactical and technical flexibility to take on nearly any role his manager asks of him, and despite his age should retain fair resale value if—or when—the day arrives when he’s no longer one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Reported wages that could run as high as £150k a week are steep, but they’re lower than what he was offered to stay at City, and the lack of a transfer fee and that the club could sell him in two to three seasons for a profit do help to make the total investment more palatable—for example, when taking the transfer fee into account, the club’s investment in Adam Lallana is around £9M a season compared to £7.5M for Milner.
And, wages aside, at the end of the day, James Milner is quite simply a player who makes Liverpool Football Club better. He’s a player whose arrival will also make one of their rivals for the top four worse. That’s a hard signing for anyone to turn their nose up at, even if it’s not a flashy or exciting one.
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