LIVERPOOL: WHAT NEXT FOR JAMES MILNER? - The Anfield Wrap

Football - Liverpool FC Preseason Tour 2015 - Day 10 - Kuala LumpurYAYA Toure. It’s funny how the brain works sometimes, writes PAUL COPE. The TAW lads asked me to do a piece on James Milner for the new season, and the first thing that popped into my head was Yaya Toure.

I’ve probably already lost some of you with that, but there will be a few who already know where I’m going with this.

I remember when we were selling Javier Mascherano to Barcelona and were being paid £18m for his transfer. At the same time, Manchester City were buying Barcelona’s defensive midfielder, Yaya Toure, for the princely sum of £24m.

I recall standing in pubs around the city, spouting my mouth off about how it was absolutely ludicrous that Barcelona were selling their current, fairly average, defensive midfielder for £6m more than they were paying for our much loved, ‘one-of-the-best-players-I’ve-ever-seen-in-that-position’ nasty little bastard. They obviously considered Masch to be an upgrade, otherwise why would they bother, so surely they should pay more for him than they were being paid for Toure?

Admittedly I hadn’t seen much of Yaya at that point. In all honesty I’ve never watched the other leagues in Europe much mainly because, well, you know, I’m really busy and important and barely have time to watch Liverpool, so there’s very little prospect of me making time to watch anyone else regularly as well. Anyway, aside from my busyness and important-ness, the point is that I did what we all do and judged Yaya Toure on a few snippets I’d seen of him and the fact that, logically, it made no sense to me that Barca could upgrade on a player while making a £6m profit, especially when I knew how good Mascherano was.

I didn’t know this at the time, but Toure had only scored six goals in 117 games for Barcelona. At one point he was played at centre back (including the Champions League final in 2009) but ultimately wasn’t fancied by Pep in the centre of his dynamic midfield and so was shipped off to City.

What happened next led to me feeling a little bit daft about my initial judgment of players who I’d never really watched. In my defence, even if I had watched him play for Barca, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have been exclaiming to everyone that Pep Guardiola was an idiot and anyone with two brain cells could see that Toure was a goalscoring midfielder in waiting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLSu3l9dQLM

His record to date at City? 221 games, 67 goals. Just under a goal every three games. And all that while spending a fair amount of time under Mancini still playing in a defensive midfield role. I think most of us recall the standard Mancini move when needing a goal during his era: “In case of emergency, break glass and move Toure 10 yards further forward.”

So Paul, you might say, why when writing an article on James Milner have you spent so much time banging on about Yaya Toure?

I’m glad you asked.

You see, I have a vision of James Milner — but it probably isn’t the same vision that most people have of him. I think since joining the gang of mega stars at Manchester City, Milner has been labelled as a reliable pro. A never ending bundle of energy that will do a solid job for you and won’t stop running. Ever. I think some fans will give him a bit of credit for having “more ability than you think”, which is basically damning him with faint praise. In fairness, the sensible reds will say that it was Milner’s introduction (albeit as a wide midfielder) that led to our punch-drunk game against City in 2013-2014 turning in their favour and them coming back from 2-0 down.

But just listen to this:

Playing as a central midfielder with Aston Villa, Milner was named PFA Young Player of the Season and in the PFA Team of the Season for the 2009–10 Premier League season, scoring 12 goals.

This is why when asked about James Milner coming to Liverpool to play in central midfield I can’t help but think of Yaya Toure. James Milner wanted to leave City despite a reliable source telling me that they offered to pay him Jan Molby’s body weight in diamond encrusted gold bullion every week (sorry, Jan), because he wanted to remember what it was like to be that lad who played for Aston Villa — who everyone thought was a goalscoring, attacking midfielder with flair and skill who could score and create goals with both feet. The lad who City wanted to pay £26m for. Twenty six million quid. As Milner said himself: “Manchester City were not interested in me when I was playing out-wide at Newcastle.”

Football - FA Premier League - Wigan Athletic FC v Aston Villa FCThe irony isn’t lost on me that he comes into the side in place of a lad who played for us who decided he wanted to remember a similar thing, and on his debut at his new club in California scored one, created one and hit the bar with a free kick, making him “feel like a kid” again.

We all like James Milner. It’s been refreshing for once to have something happen at LFC that everyone agrees on. Milner is a very good signing — especially on a free.

But I think the beauty is this. For once everyone is happy because they think they know exactly what they’re getting. They think they’re getting a really hard working, reliable pro who will never stop running. Ever. Some think we’ll get a bit more than that. I know Neil Atkinson sees Milner playing at the tip of the diamond at times, with his ability to play with his back to goal being a key asset.

I can see that happening at times too, but I see him as more than that. I see him as a rampaging attacking midfielder, running from deep, exchanging cute little one-twos on the edge of the box before smashing a shot with either foot into the top corner. I see him doing step overs, sliding passes, whipping crosses, sprinting, hassling, annoying, never ending, but always, always with a level of ability and panache that has been largely forgotten along the way. I see Milner showing why he decided that the number seven shirt wouldn’t be too heavy for him, because he’s sick of playing second fiddle to players who are favoured simply because they cost more money or have a foreign name.

Sometimes players are capable of more than you think.

I see James Milner scoring 15 goals from midfield and getting 10 assists.

Don’t believe me?  Just watch.

@paul7cope

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