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EPL Transfer Spotlight: Brighton’s James Milner

What can Milner bring to Brighton’s young side?

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James Milner - Brighton - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Having played for 22 different managers, six clubs, represented England 61 times, made 619 Premier League appearances and won 12 major trophies, James Milner joins Brighton on a free transfer from Liverpool. Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi reacted to the news by saying “He’s an excellent addition for us and I’m sure he will help to bring us to an even higher level.” Milner is expected to bring his wealth of experience and leadership to a young Brighton side navigating European football for the first time in the club’s history.

Let’s take a look at Milner’s long storied career before we examine what to expect from him at Brighton.


Aged 37, James Milner was born to Peter and Lesley Milner. His father was a quantity surveyor, while his mother worked as a real estate agent. Both were fans and season ticket holders of Leeds.

As a child, James excelled in several sports, including cricket, long-distance running and football. He was a middle-distance runner and cross-country champion while also playing as a wicketkeeper for the Yorkshire cricket team. These early days of involvement in multiple sports formed the background for the workaholic footballer now known as James Milner.

Milner played amateur football for Westbrook Lane Primary School and represented his school in several competitions. His talent was too glaring to be ignored, and he eventually attracted the attention of Graeme Coulson, a coach at Rawdon. Rawdon spoke to Milner and persuaded him time play for Rawdon in several tournaments, one of which led to Milner scoring four goals in a final.

Despite making good strides in football, Milner didn’t slack in his academics as he bagged the award for “first class” student at his school. He graduated from school with flying colors and also won an award for his exploits in physical education. Upon excelling at Rawdon, coach Graeme Coulson helped Milner apply as a ball boy for Leeds before he eventually joined their youth team at ten years old to begin his career.

Milner made his senior debut for Leeds as a substitute in November 2002, aged 16 and 309 days, becoming the second youngest player to ever feature in the Premier League. The Englishman signed a five-year contract with Leeds in 2003 and was loaned to Swindon to gain first-team experience. Milner’s loan spell ended, and he returned to Leeds during a period when the club was passing through financial difficulties. Reluctant to leave his boyhood club, Milner rejected advances from Everton, Villa and Tottenham. He eventually bowed to the pressure and joined Newcastle in July 2004. Milner made 54 appearances and scored five goals for his boyhood club.

Milner hit the ground running at Newcastle under Bobby Robson, but his exciting start to life was abruptly halted when Graeme Souness replaced Robson. The midfielder failed to nail down a place in Souness’ lineup and was eventually shipped out on loan to Aston Villa halfway into the season. Milner enjoyed a decent spell at Villa and expressed interest in joining the club permanently. Upon returning to Newcastle after his loan spell, Milner enjoyed a good season, starting most of the games. He featured 136 times for the Magpies and scored 11 goals.

Milner’s wish was eventually granted when he joined Aston Villa in 2008 for 12m. For the first time in his early career, Milner enjoyed managerial stability and took his game to great levels. He switched into midfield at the beginning of the 2009-10 season and ended the season as Villa’s Fans’ player of the year. He also bagged the PFA Young Player of the Year award. The youngster’s exploit attracted interest from big spenders Man City and a deal for 26m was eventually struck to bring the England international to the Etihad. He played 126 times for the Villans and scored 22 goals.

Milner quickly settled in at Manchester City and played a major part in the Citizens winning their first league title in 44 years. Three more years at the Etihad saw him win another League title and a couple of other domestic cups.

Milner joined Liverpool on a free transfer in 2015. He won the prestigious Champions League with Liverpool. He featured 332 times for the club, scoring 26 goals and assisting a further 46.

Style of Play and How he will fit in at Brighton

Milner is, first and foremost, a player full of tenacity and possesses great understanding of the game. Milner started out as a wide midfielder who could beat his man and create chances for other players in the middle. His ability to create goals for his teammates is evidenced by having more assists than goals for almost every club he has played for in his long and illustrious career. A career total of 85 goals and 136 assists is no mean feat for a player that has been tasked with filling several roles across the pitch.

Over the years, Milner’s position has changed due to his age and perceived lack of pace. However, the Englishman has continued defying doubters by using his impeccable understanding of the game to compensate. Under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, Milner mainly was utilized as a deep-lying midfielder or right back. His hardworking, no-nonsense style of play makes him a suitable candidate for both roles.

Milner is robust in his tackles and never shies away from a 50/50 challenge. He tracks back effortlessly and guarantees 100% commitment for every minute spent on the pitch. His immaculate work off the ball gives room for other players around him to thrive. His leadership and impressive reading of the game also mean he’s always on hand to help teammates mop up mistakes or lapses in concentration.

Milner will act as a reliable cover for De Zerbi on the pitch in several positions. He can play on the left or right side of attack, in central midfield or either of the fullback roles. It is rare to see one player that can fill all these roles, but Milner does it effortlessly. While it’s unlikely that Milner will be a regular starter, expect him to be a regular face off the bench when Brighton looks to bring in fresh legs in the second half of games.

Off the pitch, Milner will bring his over 22 years of experience and leadership to a young Brighton side with all the ingredients to become a top team. His impressive fitness, which stems from his professionalism and dedication to the game, is expected to rub off on Brighton youngsters. Milner will join the likes of Danny Welbeck, Adam Lallana, Lewis Dunk, and Pascal Gross as the team’s senior players. Having won every domestic trophy multiple times and the Champions League, adding Milner to this young squad can only be good.

Fantasy Prospect

Adding Milner to fantasy teams might be difficult due to his game time and reduced output in front of goal. The Englishman is expected to be more of an impact player for De Zerbi. However, the departure of the club’s main penalty taker MacAllister to Liverpool means Milner might become the team’s primary penalty taker when he’s on the field of play.

Having featured 31 times in the Premier League for Liverpool last season, Milner still has much to offer on the pitch to Roberto De Zerbi’s side. Everything points towards an unpredictable situation that might be best dealt with by playing the waiting game. Giving Milner time to settle down and monitoring how much game time De Zerbi affords him might be the best way forward.

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