James Milner: Liverpool midfielder urges team-mates to keep 'pedal down' in title quest

Liverpool midfielder talks to Soccer Saturday about retirement plans, his foundation and wearing the famous No 7 shirt

Image: James Milner sat down with Soccer Saturday to reflect on the season so far

James Milner is sitting in a small room, cluttered with cameras and tripods, behind the media centre at Liverpool's Melwood training base.

He is working his way through several international broadcast interviews as part of his press obligations this week.

Before his chat with Soccer Saturday, Milner told a Malaysian television crew that one day, when he has finished playing, he would like to go back to south-east Asia on holiday, explore a bit and sample the local food.

His only visits to the region have been during pre-season football tournaments. "Hotel, training pitch, stadium, that's all we usually see," he explained.

James Milner celebrates his opening strike against MK Dons on Wednesday
Image: Milner's experience within Jurgen Klopp's squad remains invaluable

Not that retirement is on the agenda any time soon. With an injury to Fabinho ahead of a congested December calendar, Milner's importance to the squad has re-emerged after a quieter couple of months than he would have liked. On Wednesday evening he captained Liverpool to a 5-2 rout of local rivals Everton at a jubilant Anfield.

"Unless you are playing every minute of every game you always want more, but the team is winning games, I just have to do my best to help in any way I can," he says.

Jurgen Klopp's side are in a remarkable run of form. The 32-match unbeaten run is the longest in the club's history in the top division. But Milner believes there is more to come from the team.

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James Milner
Image: The versatile midfielder scored a crucial goal to earn Liverpool a win over Leicester

"A few more clean sheets would help. There's a lot of pressure there if you're not keeping clean sheets, you need a couple of goals to win a game which we're getting at the moment.

"I think the other area we need to improve on is when we are on top we are not quite sticking the pedal down and seeing teams off and moving away. That shows the quality in the Premier League and the heart and desire other teams have. Teams don't roll over, it just doesn't happen."

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On the wall behind Milner is a display of portraits of the club's famous number sevens. Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez are three of the players featured prominently. Milner is, perhaps, not a natural successor but he has established himself as a great player at this club in other ways.

"The number sevens are legends up there, the majority of those guys have got a bit more flare than I have but hopefully I've shown the number seven a lot of respect and done the number justice," he continues.

James Milner of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City at Anfield on October 05, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom
Image: Milner's importance has come back into focus due to Fabinho's injury

"There's always going to be pressure wearing that number but I feel like I have dealt with it and represented the club in the right way. Moving to Liverpool was obviously a big step, I could have stayed at Man City and been quite happy, I'm sure.

"But since I've been here I've been very happy. Obviously getting the Champions League win last year was massive after the disappointments of the finals before that. It's pleasing, you see the process since I've been at the club, how the team has moved on and got better and better, and the club is growing all the time.

"The stadium has changed, the training ground is changing. It's a special place to play football and one you want to contribute at as much as you can, and hopefully my time will not bring just one trophy, there will more to come."

Jurgen Klopp and Milner embrace after the Merseyside derby win
Image: Jurgen Klopp and Milner embrace after the Merseyside derby win

It has been a significant week for Milner off the field in the city too. He hosted a charity ball last Sunday to mark the eighth anniversary of the James Milner Foundation. The money raised from the event took the foundation's total fundraising past the £1m mark.

"That total is down to the football clubs I've been at as well," he adds.

"Manchester City were fantastic supporting it when I was there, and Liverpool have been incredible. At the dinner last night we had 900 in attendance, so the amount of people who have supported it and helped us get through that one million barrier is amazing. It's got bigger and bigger each year.

James Milner speaks at his Foundation Charity Ball last weekend
Image: Milner speaks at his Foundation's Charity Ball last weekend in Liverpool

"The four main charities the foundation raises money for are NSPCC, Help for Heroes, Motor Neurone Disease Association and Bloodwise. I've been an ambassador for NSPCC since I was 18 years old.

"Help for Heroes is a great charity that we represented with England, and Bloodwise was added when my old team-mate Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with leukaemia. We brought MND on board last year with the unfortunate news of Stephen Darby being diagnosed. So, they are all amazing charities and hopefully we can keep giving money to these great causes."

So is it fair to say the charities reflect the impact certain events have made during various stages of Milner's own career?

Milner
Image: Milner was joined by Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson at the event

"I think so, I was involved with NSPCC from such a young age at Leeds and then Newcastle. When I was with England you could see how big an impact sport had with soldiers and how they are affected mentally and physically with the injuries they have.

"I know personally how strong Stiliyan is, physically and mentally, and saw how leukaemia affected him. I've also met children who've gone through it; some have come through it and others haven't and it's heart-breaking to see that.

"Motor Neurone Disease is something not many people know a lot about that it, even the doctors. There is no cure for that and seeing Darbs going through that with his family and Steph and how he has dealt with it, setting up his own foundation, it's incredible."

Houghton's husband Stephen Darby is battling motor neurone disease
Image: Stephen Darby was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in September 2018

The Liverpool academy graduate retired from football at just 29 years old when he was diagnosed with MND. In July two of his former clubs - Liverpool and Bradford City - staged a fundraising match to help the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation.

"I've known Darbs a long time, we've had the same agent for years," Milner explains. "He's been in to the club to see us as well, we just want to support him as much as we can and help him out. The way he has dealt with what he has is incredible and anything we can do to support him we'll do that."

Milner intends to become more hands on with the foundation when he finishes playing, although there are one or two other events he has his eyes on too.

The Champions League trophy on display at the Hollywood Ball
Image: The Champions League trophy was on display at the Hollywood Ball

"When I retire, to keep fit in some way, maybe I'll try a few marathons if I can still move at that point. But I just want to play as long as I can; you're a long time retired. I feel pretty good now, physically and mentally.

"I feel like I can contribute in the same way as I did a few years ago. And when you're part of a club like Liverpool, it's a great club to be at. We're pushing for honours, you feel part of something big.

"Over the last four or five years I've been involved in it growing and getting better and better. Hopefully I can contribute for a few more years yet."

You can see our James Milner interview on Soccer Saturday this weekend.

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