James Milner came to Liverpool and won everything; his departure marks the end of an era.

Jurgen Klopp used the past tense, or the past conditional, to refer to James Milner for the first time. It wasn’t because, in terms of Liverpool midfielders, Milner is younger than Steve McManaman and older than Stefan Bajcetic.

Rather, it was due to Milner’s impending departure from Liverpool. “I would have loved to have worked with him for even longer,” Klopp said, a little wistfully.

It wasn’t exactly a formal announcement, but it was close to confirming Milner’s Liverpool career is over after four games.

“I think Milly will say the exact outcome of his decision,” Klopp said, but Milner appears destined for Brighton. The distance will almost certainly be covered during pre-season training in Sussex.

Milner’s time is not up at 37, more than two decades after his first Premier League appearance and 914 games for club and country. It won’t surprise Klopp: he’s previously stated that Milner can play until he’s 40. He hoped to keep him at Anfield until he turned 38.

“I can say over the last few months I had really good conversations with him,” Klopp said. “He knows how highly I value him. Nothing in the last seven-and-a-half years of the positive things would have happened without James Milner.”

When it came to persuasion, Klopp fell short. Actually, for twice, as Roberto Firmino recently announced that he will also travel in the summer. To keep each, Klopp had hoped. Perhaps neither found appeal in a lower status. “An incredible part of the team,” according to Klopp, is Milner. The odd-job man can be a valuable team member, which is a more accurate assessment. Milner’s next match will be his 40th of the season, which is a high mark since 2018–19, as Klopp has worked to keep him active. But only six of his 27 Premier League appearances have been as a starter.

His last seven performances lasted six, four, six, nine, eight, eleven, and eight minutes, respectively. If Klopp raids the American Express Stadium for Alexis Mac Allister, Brighton might present the chance for a bigger role.

There may not be room for sentimentality because Liverpool’s season may go down to the very last day. If so, Milner’s final appearance for Liverpool as captain may always be remembered in the Bernabeu as a member of a central-midfield trio that was outnumbered by Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Eduardo Camavinga. It is the kind of thankless task that always seemed to come Milner’s way; his uncomplaining nature meant he took them on.

As a backup right-back in Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City in October, he turned in one of his best performances to date. Milner defeated Phil Foden in what should have been an unfair match, but he prevailed.
It seemed unfair that Mykhailo Mudryk’s first opponent in English football, Milner, was such a speedster, whereas Klopp needed him more as a right-back, aside from his influence off the field. This season, the oldest gegenpresser in town was questioned about his ability to play in a Klopp midfield in a few matches, most notably the away match against Napoli.

Milner’s desire to play and natural realism may have led to his departure, especially with at least two and possibly three midfielders expected to arrive in the summer. In the meantime, Firmino had begun to favor the sixth option. Although Klopp has refuted accusations that he is overly devoted, if both have recently become less spry, they may have chosen wisely.

The two players went on to become the two with the most appearances under Klopp: 353 for the Brazilian and 319 for the Yorkshireman. Both were among Brendan Rodgers’ final signings, though the Northern Irishman had no idea what to do with Firmino. With them both, an era comes to an end with a more pronounced transition to Klopp 2.0.
What an era, though. In terms of effort or persona, Milner has long seemed like a predictable figure, but there was something unexpected about how his time at Anfield unfolded: he had a remarkable year at left-back in 2016–17, a position he repeated in the second half of the 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona in 2019; Lionel Messi had called Milner a donkey in the first leg of their semi-final, but the donkey went on to win Europe.

He tied Luis Figo’s record of having the most assists in a Champions League season in 2017–18. He won every major trophy during his eight years at Anfield, including the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, European Super Cup, FA Cup, League Cup, and Community Shield. He adopted the renowned No. 1 for Liverpool.

7 shirt, renowned for flair players, and turned it into the domain of the ultimate utility player. But now Milner, the seasoned player who could outrun anyone for miles, appears to be moving on, and Klopp will miss him.


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