How Will James Milner Help Liverpool?

James Milner - Credit: Chao
James Milner - Credit: Chao /

Liverpool have begun their summer purchases particularly early this year, as it was announced the other day that midfielder James Milner will be joining the club on a free transfer.

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While the news has been met with mostly positive remarks from fans of the club, just how much will his arrival signal a change in fortunes for manager Brendan Rodgers’ side? Is he the kind of player who can signal a culture change at the club, or is he just a nice addition, and nothing more?

Really, it depends what way you look at the signing, and there are two ways to approach it. On one hand, Milner was a free transfer and, wages aside, picking up an regular international for nothing is always a good bit of business. Playing as he has for the last number of years with Manchester City, Milner is used to being in a winning environment.

While it’s unfair to call Liverpool’s dressing room one full of nearly men and plenty of promise but no end product, Milner has the medals to prove he’s been to the top with his former employers. That winning mentality cannot be underestimated, and guys like Jordan Henderson will feed off of that. So in this way, it is a smart move.

Jun 4, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; England defender James Milner (17) controls the ball against Ecuador midfielder Jefferson Montero (7) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; England defender James Milner (17) controls the ball against Ecuador midfielder Jefferson Montero (7) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

While once a midfield player exclusively, in recent times Milner has been used on the wing, and occasionally even up front. While these aren’t his natural positions, his willingness to play wherever the team needs him to is a trait more professionals could do with having. No matter where he is on the pitch, he’ll give his all, and also usually contribute in a positive manner as well. So in this regard it’s another plus.

With Raheem Sterling also expected to depart the club this summer, it is also a cheap stopgap while the young Jordan Ibe is blooded into becoming a starter on a full time basis. So Milner can play as a winger before Ibe takes over down the road. On top of that, he can also fill the hole left by the departed Steven Gerrard too. He is a midfielder with similar traits to that of the Anfield legend.

Lots of running, hard working, playing with and without the ball, while also having a whole host of experience and also being English himself, Milner is in fact an excellent replacement for the former captain. So, given his Swiss army knife array of skills, he is capable of plugging many holes for the team. Players like this are always welcomed at a club.

At 29, Milner still has plenty to give, and his eight assists in the league last year was equal to the likes of Alexis Sanchez too. Since making a name for himself with Newcastle and later Aston Villa, Milner has steadily grown into a more varied and dependable attacking option. Given Liverpool’s struggles in front of goal since Luis Suarez departed for Barcelona, any help they can get in that department will also be welcomed.

For all these good feelings though, there are some inescapable thoughts on Milner’s signing. The big one for me is why City would let a player go to a top four rival in the first place?

It’s rare that big teams sell directly to one another, and the only times that really happens is when huge fees are involved (Fernando Torres from Liverpool to Chelsea, although in hindsight that was great business) or the player forces his way there (Robin van Persie, Arsenal to Manchester United).

While it was a free transfer and City ultimately had no say in where he ended up, if they felt he could still contribute to a title chasing squad in a big way, they would not have let him walk. Remember, this is a City team which had a poor league campaign and will be looking to strengthen a number of areas. The likes of Yaya Toure could still leave, and really it’s about keeping as much talent as possible.

To them Milner wasn’t worth it, or so it would seem. From Liverpool’s perspective, while it appears a nice pickup from them, if a team directly above them felt he was surplus to requirements there, what does that say about their own chances of breaking back into the top four next year? It’s not an encouraging sign.

Other than that, is Milner really the type of signing to push the needle and make this team a threat once again? I would argue no. When Arsenal wanted to make a statement of intent they signed Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in consecutive summers.

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Likewise, Chelsea went out last summer, brought in Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas and won the league. Manchester United brought in Angel Di Maria, and while they’ve yet to see the best of him, his quality has never been in doubt.

Comparing Milner’s arrival to the players mentioned above shows you where Liverpool are at right now, and it’s not entirely promising. Luckily for them summer is only beginning, and if this is the first of a flurry of signings, perhaps things will work out for the club. As it is, Milner brings a lot of positives to a team that needs as much of that as it can get right now.

It’s just that it’s not the type of signing that inspires a fan base. It’s the kind a title contender makes to solidify their positioning in the league table. Liverpool will be hoping to get the best out of James Milner, and given his work rate and mentality, they probably will. Depending on how the rest of their summer goes however, it may not be nearly enough.