Liverpool’s Premier League form has been poor since the turn of the year, but one of the reasons I don’t think this blip will last much longer is because of the leaders in their dressing room.
My old Manchester City team-mate James Milner is a great example of that. I know exactly what he will have been saying before, during and after their games – whether he has been playing or not.
A lot of the time these days, when people rate players and talk about what they bring to a team, they just look at their stats for passes, assists or goals.
But if you just base your opinion of Milner on those numbers throughout his career, then you won’t get the full picture – not even close.
‘One of the most inspirational people I have ever met’
I get asked a lot about different players by people who ask what they’re really like, but Milner – or Milly as I know him – is just a brilliant person to be around – one of my favourite people in the world in fact.
He turned 35 last week and is only a couple of years older than me. I got to know him through our time together playing for England Under-21s, and I always looked up to him.
I have been around some unbelievable players at club and international level, but he is one of the most inspirational people I have met.
On top of that, he was always there for you if you needed him. I could ring him at midnight if I needed to, and I knew he would answer the phone.
The fact he is so approachable is probably the biggest compliment I can pay him. It makes it so much easier for everyone to connect with him and pick his brains, especially younger players.
At City, he always went out of his way to make sure they were OK and I know he has been doing the same with the teenagers who have broken into the Reds side this season.
He mentored Liverpool’s under-23 team when they played Shrewsbury in the FA Cup last year, so he will know a lot of them already.
He thought I was behind the ‘Boring Milner’ tweets
Milly obviously has this tag of being dull or quiet but, believe me, he has got plenty of banter. He is super intelligent and very sharp, and rips into you in a very dry way that would always crack me up.
It didn’t matter who you were, either. He was very tight with Joe Hart and Gareth Barry at City and the three of them would dish it out to everyone, superstars or not.
It was hard to get the better of him but I always tried my best. So when someone started up the parody “Boring James Milner” Twitter account when we were at City together, everyone thought it was me behind it, including Milner.
Whoever it was, they were only following me and a couple of others at the time so I was the prime suspect. Whenever a new post went up he would say: “Come on, mate, you’ve had your fun – stop it now.”
I’d be going: “I swear, Milly, it’s not me!” But he wouldn’t believe me. I ended up messaging the guy behind it, saying: “Who is this? Because Milner thinks it’s me!”
He would not disclose his name but he sent me a picture of himself and it was just some random bloke. I just told him: “Keep it up. It is unbelievable – I love it!”
As you can see, Milner found it funny too and has played along with it down the years. He has always been able to laugh at himself and being so humble is another reason he is so likeable.
This is a player who was still playing for England Under-21s when he was 23, but he never thought he was better than that or got too big-time to turn up. He won 46 under-21 caps and, whenever I was in the squad with him, he always gave everything.
He has also always given me stick, though. Whenever I text him now, he always jokes: “Any chance of you ever bigging up Liverpool at all?”
He is inferring that I don’t do that enough because I’m a former City player – but I’m not having that. I’ve sung their praises plenty of times in the past couple of years. Maybe he will read this and finally be happy. We shall see!
‘Milner wasn’t a winger – I was right about that’
While I don’t think there’s any danger of this Liverpool team being underrated, it’s only recently that Milner’s talent has been properly recognised.
I thought he was disrespected for long parts of his career because the focus was always on his work-rate when he has a lot more to his game than just fantastic energy.
A long time ago, I was guilty of that myself. I played against him when he was at Newcastle United – I was right-back for City and he was on the left wing – and I was thinking: “Well, he is decent but he is not going to run past me. What has he got?”
It is only when I played with him that I realised how good he was. He wasn’t a winger (I was right about that!) but he is an excellent midfielder. He has shown that many times, but the game that always stands out for me is when City beat Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford in 2011. I watched that match again recently and I was screaming “go on, Milly” at the screen because he was just everywhere.
Milner’s not a genius on the ball like David Silva – but who is? He won’t beat two men and put it in the top corner either. But he is a player who is good at everything rather than brilliant at one thing – he can pick a pass, tackle and shoot with either foot.
I don’t think he is underrated any more. As well as playing more than 800 senior matches, just look at what he has won – every domestic club honour, including three Premier League titles, plus the Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup, and more than 60 England caps.
‘He could still be in the Premier League at 40’
Milner can do it all, but that’s not the only reason he has had a long and successful career.
His mindset is astonishing; he never has a day off. Out of everything I’ve said, it is that character and experience that will really make the difference for Liverpool with what they are going through now.
We won the Premier League together at City in 2012 but there were times that season when things were not going well. He was one of the people who kept everyone going.
He wouldn’t let us get super-excited when we were on a winning run, but he also wouldn’t let us get too low when we were losing games and losing ground in what was a very tight title race.
It was the way he did it too – not by shouting and bawling but by giving you proper information about what you were doing right or wrong.
As well as what he says, he leads by example in every way. I know he’s had a few little niggling injuries recently, but he’s still as fit as ever. And that is not down to luck – it is because of hard work and his total dedication to his career since he made his Premier League debut for Leeds in 2002, aged 16.
Whenever I’m asked about the level of professionalism every player should aspire to, I use him as the example. He doesn’t drink alcohol and he is probably fitter now than I was in my prime.
There’s no sign of him stopping, either. He left City for Liverpool in 2015 for more game time, and he still has that hunger.
Like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he is one of those players who can just keep on going. I honestly think Milner could still be playing in the Premier League aged 40, if he wants to.
Micah Richards was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
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