Jackson Widlic asks the question: is James Milner as boring as he is portrayed after the Englishman had a great debut season at Liverpool.
Coming off a disappointing end to the 2014-2015 Barclays Premier League campaign, Liverpool Football Club and former manager Brendan Rodgers vowed to rebound, which many viewed as another summer transfer window used for bringing in many new additions to the club.
One of which being the “boring” James Milner, the 30 year old was brought in on a free transfer from rivals Manchester City on a long term deal for the Reds. As always, the signing was drawn up as controversial by the fanbase, in which a noticeable divide formed between those who appreciated the deal and believed that the veteran would bring needed stabilization to a now Gerrard-less midfield, and those who deemed the signing as another lackluster addition to a position which called for a player of marquee caliber.
The frustration was understandable; how could one possibly be satisfied with James Milner slotting in for club legend Steven Gerrard? The fans wanted something more. Ultimately, though, it seems everyone got more from James Milner this season, proving statistically to be one of Europe’s best players to be playing at this year’s European Championships in France, as noted by BBC Sport. However, was the man who fans dubbed “Hamez” by the end of the season really as successful and important to his new Liverpool side as the statistics made him up to be?
It’s safe to say that when one thinks about whether James Milner’s debut season at Liverpool stands up to his many critics, the first category that is brought up are indeed the statistics, especially because when shown to one that has not watched the Englishman this season, can easily lead one to believe that the midfielder is around a world class level.
Over the course of the 2015-2016 Premier League season, Milner reportedly started in all of the 28 games he played, scoring 5 times and assisting 11 goals, as per Squawka. Of the 28 games, Milner captained the Reds 24 times this season, more than any other player (yes, even more than Jordan Henderson).
In all competitions, Milner started a whopping 43 times, appearing as a substitute only twice, and adding 2 more goals and 3 more assists to his reported Premier League tally. A master creator? No. A prominent finisher in the final third? Not even a bit. Overall, it is easy to determine that stats do not tell the whole story, although it should be recognized that Milner contributed much more than expected this season, which should merit him some deserved credit from his doubters.
A reminder: it is imperative to notice that this article geared towards judging James Milner’s season overall, and not about judging him quality-wise.
On that note, it is a no-brainer that Milner’s introduction to life in Merseyside was one he, as well as the fans, should be delighted with. Almost everyone knew what he would bring to the team, and as a result, he was terribly underestimated. In hindsight, the point of whether Milner delivered this season is not to be argued. Not only did he deliver, he over-achieved. He surprised the fans, and perhaps even new manager Jürgen Klopp, who took over after an unsuccessful start to the season saw the man in charge of the emotional 2013-2014 campaign, Brendan Rodgers, part ways with the club.
Perhaps the slow start to the season living life as Liverpool captain in the centre of midfield under Rodgers earned the right to be criticized, and of course the dreaded corner-taking as well as lack of technical ability enforced the decision of the majority of the fanbase to emphasize his relatively poor performances throughout the season whenever they came, most recently being the Europa League semi-final first leg at Villarreal’s Estadio El Madrigal, which saw the Reds walk away with their hands full, and, yet again, hoping for another memorable European night at Anfield following the 1-0 defeat.
The stick that Milner had received across social media was relentless, many labeling him as simply not good enough, again mentioning his weekly wage amount (£140,000) as an absolute farce for a man that put in such a bad performance as he had, only to be questioning their own opinion on him yet again the following week, in which Milner produced an incredible performance in midfield alongside partner Emre Can, leading Liverpool to an impressive 3-0 victory over the Spaniards, and setting their sights on another major European trophy to add to the collection.
Throughout the season, James Milner brought along with him the good, the bad, and the ugly, whether it be a pinpoint cross to Dejan Lovren at the far post to head in a last minute winner for the Reds against European giants Borussia Dortmund, or a sending off at Selhurst Park to put his side down a man, and a goal in the second half, yet it is needless to say that the man put in a real shift all 43 times he set foot on a pitch in Liverpool red, enforcing his label as being a workhorse when statistics showed the distance that was covered per game by the new number 7 was one of the highest in the English Premier League.
The verdict? A season in which it should be said had placed many of his doubters in a different mindset than before, becoming an important staple in the centre of Liverpool’s midfield. For a free transfer, it’s easy to infer that the signing was expected to play a utility role, a bit out wide, a bit in defense, a bit in midfield, but certainly not expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet, leading his team out in a Europa League final on a rainy night in Basel against two-time defending champions of the competition Sevilla.
Call him unspectacular, boring, technically-inept, and although it maybe true, James Milner proved to all Liverpool fans, doubters and believers alike, that this season should merit him the titles of industrious, reliable, and quite the surprise package.
Feature Image – The Telegraph