Liverpool midfielder James Milner is hoping his team can build on their UEFA Champions League triumph to win more trophies – starting in Istanbul
INTERVIEW ALEX UNDERWOOD
James Milner just seems to get better with age. Put that down to the same hard work, selflessness and determination he shows on the pitch, the versatile midfielder having proven his worth to Jürgen Klopp season after season. The Liverpool manager’s approach demands a lot of his players, but Milner has not just succeeded in staying relevant – he has thrived, most memorably serving up an all-time record nine assists in the UEFA Champions League in 2017/18. “A proper leader”, according to Klopp, the 33-year-old made all his experience count in an important cameo during the 2019 UEFA Champions League final. It was the crowning moment of his career, but Milner is not about to let his focus slip. “Hopefully it’ll drive us on to more,” he says, with the chance to add another piece of silverware in Istanbul.
How significant would it be to kick off the new season with another trophy?
It’s very important. You want to get into that habit of winning trophies. The Super Cup’s a special trophy to win because you’ve got to win a big trophy to get there as well. And we’re playing against another top team, another English team. It’s a good way to start the season if you can win a trophy, and it’s more silverware for the club if you can do that.
Istanbul will bring back great memories of the 2005 UEFA Champions League final for Liverpool fans. What is it like to be going there as a player?
Obviously I wasn’t at the club at the time, when there was that amazing comeback and they won the European Cup there, but I watched the game myself and I’ve been at the club now for four years. You feel more a part of it the longer you’re here. I hear plenty of stories about it and chants, and you learn about the history of the club the longer you’re here. I think it’ll be great memories for the fans going back there and it’d be nice to get another trophy there as well.
As European champions, are the expectations on Liverpool that bit higher for this game?
I don’t know, that’s probably for other people to talk about. We know it’ll be a tough game and two good teams – and early in the season, which is never easy. Obviously, there’s been a lot of players away from both teams in various tournaments in the summer, so it’s always a tough time with players at different stages of their fitness, but it’s the sort of game where everyone will click in straight away and be ready for it.
“To be able to win number six for this club was fantastic and hopefully it’ll be massive for this team going forward”
A few months on, how does it feel to be a European champion?
It’s special. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in at times. I’ve had plenty of people congratulating me and things like that. Then, obviously, we’re back for pre-season, so it’s a “We go again and it’s in the past” sort of thing. It’s great to be a European champion. And given how we performed last year, both in the league and in Europe, it would have been a massive disappointment if we didn’t win a trophy. So, to be able to win number six for this club was fantastic, is fantastic, and hopefully it’ll be massive for this team going forward, winning that first piece of silverware as a team together – hopefully it’ll drive us on to more.
What is it about Jürgen Klopp that makes him such a special coach?
I think the biggest thing, as you can probably see yourself, is what you see is what you get. He doesn’t have one front for the cameras and then he’s completely different to the players. He’s honest with the players and he lives every minute of it. He’s on the side and he’s bouncing around; he wants to be out there. That energy’s big for us when we’re down. He seems to judge it right in terms of when to put an arm round the shoulder after a game, if we haven’t played well or something. He knows what to say at half-time, or if you need a rocket he’ll give you that as well.
Klopp has said you can still develop as a player. Do you agree?
I think you can always learn. I’ve been fortunate enough to be playing a long time and I’ve played with some great players and under some great managers, but every single day you go out on that field you can learn something. Maybe my role’s a bit more about helping the younger guys now as well, but I can learn from my team-mates, I can learn from the manager. You’ve always got to try to improve as much as you can. I’ll go into every training session with the mindset that you never know anything. If you’ve got the mindset where you think you know everything, you’re going to be struggling.
Has being at Liverpool reinvigorated your relationship with the game?
I’ve been fortunate to play for big clubs all throughout my career, and Liverpool’s obviously another big club with a fantastic history. Since I’ve been here, I’ve always wanted to win a trophy. That’s what the club’s used to. And I think you feel like you’ve earned the right to be a part of the history now we’ve won that Champions League trophy. Hopefully it’s the first of a few, but the most important thing is us writing our own recent history. You walk through the halls at Anfield and Melwood and you see the players who have played here before, and it’s a great place to be.