Milner: I want to contribute on and off the field

James Milner insists that he is as hungry for success as he has ever been and cannot wait for his 23rd season in top-flight football to begin.

By Nick Szczepanik • 10 August 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
James Milner made his Albion debut in the friendly against Rayo Vallecano.

Now 37, Milner is third behind only Gareth Barry and Ryan Giggs in Premier League appearances, with 625 so far. He has made 61 appearances for England and won every club honour in the game in a career that has included spells at Leeds United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Liverpool prior to joining Albion earlier this summer.

But he says: “If anybody thought I was coming down here to have an easy end to my career they don't know me very well. I want to do as well as I can for this club, to push and to contribute. I still feel good and feel I have plenty in me.”

He hopes to use his extensive European experience, which includes a victorious Champions League campaign with Liverpool in the 2018-19 season, to help Albion get to grips with the challenge of playing Europa League football for the first time.

“I want to contribute on and off the field and help as much as I can,” he said. “It’s obviously a big change playing in Europe with the travelling and the recovery and the number of games, so hopefully I can help this talented bunch of players to keep pushing forward and to build on last season.”

“It’s important to have the mindset right, people understanding they won't play in every game but everyone being absolutely ready to go whenever they are required. That strong mindset is massively important, dealing with the quick turnarounds, the travel, different styles of play against different teams, and having the ability to keep that intensity and mindset right the way through.

By Paul Hazlewood
James Milner's extensive experience of European football will be valuable as we embark on our first Europa League campaign.

“It's one thing having intensity for 38 games in a Premier League season and the odd cup game, you've got the European games on top of that. We have to be at it 100 percent every single game every three days, and that's what we're going to try to do.”

Milner said he had a number of offers when his contract at Anfield expired at the end of last season, but conversations with Albion and former Liverpool and England teammate Adam Lallana convinced him that the Amex was the place to take the next step in his distinguished career.

“It just felt right in terms of a fit,” he said. “Speaking to Ads, I heard a lot of good things and seeing how the team played, the journey the club's been on, where they are at in their journey and wanting to keep improving.

“The owner has taken the club on and they've done a great job top to bottom. They've made some fantastic signings and players have blossomed here. I feel as though I can contribute to the club on and off the field and help in that journey.”

So far, Milner has been “loving it” at the club despite a minor injury that prevented him playing in any of the three matches in the United States. And he is full of praise for his new teammates, having only previously played against them.

“You get a rough idea of a club from outside, but you can't form too big an opinion until you are there and experience it,” he said. “We all see players like that, people will have an opinion of you that haven’t really watched you and then watched them week in, week out and think: ‘Wow, he's miles better than I thought he was.’

By Paul Hazlewood
James Milner spoke to former Liverpool teammate Adam Lallana before deciding to join Albion.

“Gareth Barry was one of those people probably, one of my big mates, you didn't appreciate how good he was until you saw him week in, week out. That's the same here.

“Massive credit has to go to the dressing room. It sums up the lads and the manager and the people at the club how quickly I've felt comfortable here. It's a big thing, changing teams. It's never easy, but I've felt comfortable straight away and that shows the sort of characters we have within the club.”

He has also enjoyed working with Albion head coach Roberto De Zerbi and sees similarities with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. “Their intensity and desire to win is a big one, bouncing around on the touchline and wanting to be out there with you,” he said.

“That's a big thing, when you see your manager showing that sort of emotion and that will to win. He wants to be out there with you, feeling every kick. That's great to know that they are right there with you.”

Milner made his Albion debut as a second-half substitute in the 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano at the Amex on Sunday. Fans were delighted by a lung-bursting recovery run and ball-winning tackle, not to mention the way he rushed to defend teammates when a few meaty challenges started to fly in.

“There were good things, there were things we’d like to sharpen up and get better at,” he said. “It was disappointing not to end pre-season with a win but there was plenty over the whole of pre-season to show that we’re moving in the right direction. I think we’re more than ready for the first game.”