Celtic have show real hunger to keep winning under Brendan Rodgers but it will be exciting to see what Stevie Gerrard can do with Rangers, says Liverpool's James Milner
- Liverpool's James Milner has played top-class football for more than half his life
- It is almost mandatory to question him about his past as he makes future plans
- His career with five clubs since he was 16 has given him a range of experience
- Andrew Robertson keeps Milner apprised of all matters of Celtic at Liverpool
- He is bringing a team to Celtic Park on September 8 to play a match for charities
By Hugh Macdonald For The Scottish Daily Mail
Published: 18:27 EDT, 13 July 2018 | Updated: 19:29 EDT, 13 July 2018
He has played top-class football for more than half his life, so it is almost mandatory to question James Milner about the past even as he makes plans for the future.
This imperative is made all the more urgent given the departure of England from the World Cup. Milner, who at 32 can look back on a career that started with a debut for Leeds United at 16, can talk with authority on most aspects of football but England is a specialist subject given that he played at all under-age levels before earning 61 senior caps.
He retired from international football two years ago but one England duty remains. 'You are always a fan. You are a fan when you're playing and a fan if you are someone watching in a pub,' he says.
James Milner played at all under-age levels for England before earning 61 senior caps
'I have been lucky to have played for my country. But I had my time. I decided the right thing for myself and for England was to retire. I didn't just want to take up a spot in the squad for the sake of it,' he says, aware that his versatility made him the ideal squad player.
'You have to let the younger guys come through. That's what I wanted. That's not been a bad decision, considering how successful they have been.' The tilt at the 2018 World Cup ended in Moscow with the defeat to Croatia but Milner believes substantial benefits have accrued and they will pay a dividend in the future.
His career as a midfielder and defender with Leeds United, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Liverpool has given him a broad range of experience of what makes a winning football team.
He says: 'I have played with the majority of the England team and they have represented the country in the right way.
'They are a group of lads who are good characters, happy to play together, a brotherhood who will go that extra ten yards for each other. They don't mind doing the ugly stuff for each other.
'That's what makes the difference. That's crucial at the big tournaments.' If England fell short at a formidable hurdle, Milner insists that not only will the team improve but much of significance has been achieved.
'It is extraordinary how it has left the mood of the country, how everyone has come together,' he says.
His career with five clubs including Man City has given him a broad range of experience
'You have the fanatical fans who watch their football no matter what, but now you also have people who normally would not have a clue what is going on but getting into because they want to be part of something. That is the power of football and sport.'
This sentiment is crucial to Milner. He set up the James Milner Foundation to harness that power and he is bringing a team to Celtic Park on September 8 to play a benefit match for cancer charities in conjunction with the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation and Celtic FC Foundation.
He is no stranger to Celtic Park, having played for England in the 3-1 win over Scotland four years ago and his team-mate, Andrew Robertson, keeps him apprised of all matters Hoops. 'It's Celtic, Celtic, Celtic all the time with Robbo,' he says with a smile of the lad who once strived at the club's academy before finding a route to a Champions League final with Liverpool through Queen's Park, Dundee United and Hull City.
Milner, too, has his personal experience of the two major football figures in Glasgow this season: Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard.
'I signed for Brendan but I didn't get a chance to play for him for too long, which is unfortunate,' says Milner who joined Liverpool from Manchester City in 2015 just months before Rodgers was sacked.
'I am not surprised he's done a great job at Celtic and his stock has gone up immensely,' he says.
Milner joined Liverpool from City in 2015 just months before Brendan Rodgers was sacked
'People can talk it down as Celtic have been dominant but to perform like that consistently is a great achievement, particularly to win the six domestic trophies. That takes some doing no matter what level you are playing at. You have to admire the hunger to keep doing it, keep turning up ready to win.'
He is intrigued, too, by the arrival at Ibrox in the managerial role of an old team-mate. 'I played for Stevie with England and he was on the staff at Liverpool,' he says. 'He is probably the best player I have played with. He's very calm, a solid guy, not really a shouter but when he speaks you listen.
'He has so much experience. I saw bits of how he coached in his role at Liverpool and that was interesting but it is going to be even more interesting to see how he gets on at Ibrox. Rangers are a big club and there must be an excitement around the blue half of Glasgow. I am sure it is good for the game in Scotland, too. It is going to be exciting.'
His Glasgow focus, though, is on raising money through his foundation. He started it 'five or six years ago' and it's grown. The three main beneficiaries are Bloodwise, a charity that seeks to beat blood cancer, Help for Heroes, and the NSPCC.
He is involved, too, in several initiatives to help children play and enjoy sport. An excellent cricketer and a strong cross-country runner, Milner was immersed in sport as a Yorkshire youngster, basically being taken from the creche straight to his debut in the Leeds United first team at 16.
Andrew Robertson (right) keeps Milner apprised of all matters of Rodgers' Hoops at Liverpool
He is a player who spans the Nigel Martyn/David Batty era to the Raheem Sterling/Jesse Lingard present.
'I know how important sport can be,' he says. 'It is so crucial to get young people involved in sport. If they are having a bad time at home, or with homework, or with other children, whatever, sport can make a difference. It can take you away from the problem, help you deal with it better.
'It is well documented that computer games and a lifestyle of sitting in your room are causing obesity but the great thing about sport is that it helps get your mind off other things in life. It can mean that loneliness can lift.' The foundation has enhanced his life.
'I know there is this perception about footballers. A footballer can do ten good things, but be remembered for one bad thing. That is just life and the way of the world,' he says.
'But charity work is not about you being appreciated. It is not about looking good. It is about the causes, the lives and how we manage to change things together.'
Milner is intrigued by arrival at Ibrox in the managerial role of ex-team-mate Steven Gerrard
Change may be looming for Milner, too. 'You get to a stage when you start making decisions, keeping options open,' he says of perhaps deciding on a future in coaching.
'I could go to play for another four years or so, bringing up 20 years as a first-team pro. There are times when I think of management as an option and there are times when I don't.
'There is plenty to weigh up. I enjoy helping younger guys out. I have been playing a long time and I was looked after by the older players.
'You can have a tough time when you are coming through and I learned from the older players.
Midfielder Milner's Glasgow focus, though, is on raising money through his foundation
'So it would be a shame just to throw that away, sort of waste it. But you have to remember your family and the demands of time and travel.' One aspect will not change. 'I will continue with the foundation,' he says.
Teased on Twitter by an account named Boring James Milner, he is refreshingly free of pomposity or preening self-regard.
He laughs at the tweets on his perceived dullness, saying: 'I believe it has changed since I went on social media. Basically, in the past I gave a pretty straight bat to questions in interviews and people jumped on that bandwagon. I don't mind it.'
He has more important matters on his mind. Interesting James Milner has a storied past but a fascinating future.
Tickets for a Match for Cancer, sponsored by Dafabet, at Celtic Park on September 8 (kick-off 2pm), cost £14 for adults and £6 for concessions. Tickets are available to purchase online at www.celticfc.net [http://www.celticfc.net], by calling 0871 226 1888** or by visiting the Celtic Ticket Office.