James Milner, Liverpool’s consistently excellent Englishman, has revealed how Jurgen Klopp transformed him from an attacking midfielder into a left-back.
Last season, the 30-year-old was brought to the club by Brendan Rodgers to play central midfield, but upon the Northern Irishman’s sacking, Milner was used in a range of roles by Jurgen Klopp – often out on the flanks in 2015/16. He did excellently, registering 14 assists for the campaign, especially impressive considering he was a Bosman free transfer.
But this summer, the manager told Milner he wanted to switch him to left-back, the position Alberto Moreno was struggling in.
This initially shocked our versatile star and surprised fans, but Klopp’s been proven right. Milner’s been exceptional so far in his new role, which takes advantage of his endless work-rate and reliability.
“Obviously it was pre-season, the manager has not been there too long . . . there were a million and one things in my head,” Milner told Paul Joyce, now of the Times. “You think about everything and, ‘Does he not want me?’ was one. And then he said, ‘Would you be willing to cover the full-back positions?’
“I’d had a pretty decent end to the season and, from Christmas, I was playing more of the football I expect from myself. We had a chat. I asked him questions: am I cover for both full backs and midfield? Am I going to be changing positions? How did he see the full-back role?
“I could have said, ‘No.’ He didn’t say, ‘You are playing left back or you’re gone.’ But if I had said that then nobody knows what he would have thought. Maybe it would have been, ‘I’m not sure I want him here.’
“But I wouldn’t have been pressured into doing it if I didn’t want to. You have to be responsible for the decisions you make as well. The manager asked me the question and it was down to me to make that decision.
“Ultimately, the team comes first. If that is what is best for the team then you do it. From that moment on, I was training left back in pre-season and learning the position. You want to make that position your own and do the best you can. That was my mindset. If that is the road we are going down, then fully commit to it.
“I am not going to turn around and lie and say, ‘I love playing there.’ But if that is me being part of a successful team and contributing then I will do anything I can for Liverpool.”
These quotes sum up Milner’s brilliant attitude. Few players are as selfless and dedicated to self-improvement. On current form, there are not many left-backs in the Premier League we’d swap him for, which is testament to how quickly he’s adapted.
Long may his performances in this position shine.