James Milner set his sights on helping the current Liverpool team cement their place in club history after prolonging his stay by signing a contract extension on Friday.
The Reds vice-captain put pen to paper on a new deal at Melwood to continue a spell that has so far included 198 games, 25 goals and two trophies.
Once the formalities were completed, Milner sat down with Liverpoolfc.com to explain why this development was ‘ideal’ and open up on the determination within the dressing room to ensure June’s Champions League win is not an isolated triumph.
He also provided reaction to the announcement that manager Jürgen Klopp has agreed a contract extension to 2024 and looked ahead to the FIFA Club World Cup and ongoing Premier League title pursuit.
Read a transcript of the chat below…
Congratulations on your new contract – how does it feel to have everything done and dusted?
Fantastic. I’ve been lucky and privileged to play for this club for four-and-a-half years now, it has been an amazing time seeing how the club is changing and developing. I just enjoy coming into training every day, working with this group of players, this manager and coaching staff, and being part of this football club. Obviously the support we get is incredible all over the world. It’s an amazing place to play football, it’s an amazing time to be at the football club. We have put a couple of trophies on the board, it would be great to be part of a few more.
Tell us a little about the discussions that led to this because you must have had chance to consider some options and what was best…
We had discussions with the club and this was obviously the ideal for me, this was what I wanted to do – stay and play at the highest level as long as I can. Liverpool is an unbelievable place to be and we’re a very, very good football team and hopefully we can keep improving. Obviously the gaffer waited to sign his dependent on whether I signed mine, so that makes me a feel bit more important!
Is the sense that there’s still so much to achieve with this team? Does it feel like there’s more around the corner?
That’s why it has been so enjoyable, the journey since I have been at the club and seeing the progression. We were a good team when I came in and we have just improved, got to finals and fallen short, then we’ve had the glory and tasted the success. Now we’re fighting and you see the hunger and desire in the squad, you see the attitude in the group of players we have there, how every single one will work so hard for each other and put their bodies on the line for each other. If anyone steps out of line in the smallest way possible, they get told and brought straight back in. Everybody talks about not being the side who won one trophy, we want to be remembered for having a successful era. That’s what I wanted to be a part of when I signed for the club. You see the amazing history here and you want to earn the right to be part of that history. We have put a couple of trophies in there and we want to win a few more.
Is the drive in the squad something you take some personal credit for? We see you setting the standards in training and games…
Hopefully I don’t annoy the boys too much! But I think it’s part of the job, we have some fantastic leaders within the dressing room and that’s what you need, everybody pushes each other. The young guys are coming in and wanting a place in the squad and wanting to be part of it as well. There’s competition for places all over the field, which is so important. We just want to keep pushing, keep going for trophies and keep improving.
You have been part of some great squads over your career. Where does this one sit in terms of quality?
Right up there at the very top as one of the best, if not the best. You look at the quality, you look at the attitude, you look at the way we work in between games and how we work on the field. The mentality and the run we’re on at the moment, how we’ve dealt with disappointments and come back and how we’ve dealt with success so far. Obviously winning a trophy last year, it’s easy to sit back or take your foot off the gas, and we’ve gone the other way. There’s a long, long way to go now, we know that, no-one is getting ahead of themselves. Again, that’s a massive strength of the squad, we take it a game at a time and concentrate on one at a time. But you can see the drive in the squad to keep pushing and to try to play at the intensity that we play at every couple of days, which we are at the moment. That’s testament to everyone in and around the club, all the work everybody does at Melwood and the mental attitude and strength that we have to keep going and pushing again. Like I said, there’s a long, long way to go, but we’ll keep striving to keep improving and getting success for this club.
Has Liverpool got under your skin more than you thought it would have done when you signed in 2015?
I think when you see a club from the outside, you know what a big club it is. Coming in, you see the history and you want to earn the right to be part of that history and win trophies for the club and to get a couple on the board. The European Cup and Super Cup was fantastic and makes you feel a bit more part of it. But you fly around the globe and you see the fans all over and people stopping you, the togetherness in the ground, in the club, everyone around the training and how close we are as a unit within the playing staff and coaching staff. We enjoy coming in to play football every day and that’s massive. It’s not easy to find that. Obviously we’re doing a job we enjoy for a living but there’s hard times as well, and it’s the people you go through that with and the successes you have and the down times you have, you’re always going to remember those relationships you’ve formed – both with the players you’re playing with and the fans of the club as well. The fans have always been great since I’ve been here and hopefully we can bring them more success and help them enjoy the next few years.
Are these moments you allow yourself to enjoy? Because you put so much hard work in and you’re so disciplined. Coming up to your 34th birthday, you’re still at that top level of the game and you’ve signed a new contract with the European champions...
That’s nice, definitely. You want to play on the highest level possible. Every single interview that I do, my age gets brought into it and that’s something that drives me on. I want to prove people wrong, I want to stay at the highest level as long as possible and I want to be contributing as long as I can to Liverpool. I don’t want to be a passenger, I don’t want to be someone who’s just a good example around the place. I want to contribute in any way that I can on and off the field. Whether I’m selected or not, I want to be pushing the manager to be in that team, I want to be helping the younger guys, I want to be giving guys like Virgil a kick up the bum when he needs it on the rare occasion he does! And I want the young boys kicking me up the bum and pushing me and the older guys. That’s the strength of the squad, everyone pushes each other. That’s what drives me and I want to keep pushing and contribute as much as I can to this football club and drive more success and hopefully win more trophies for this club with a great history and create a new era of massive success for the club.
The manager has just agreed a new contract extension today. Can you tell us what that means for the players in terms of the security to know it’s another four-and-a-half years with Jürgen?
I think it’s massive for the club. You see the job he’s done since he’s come in, you’ve seen how he’s done in his career before and the success he’s had. I think it was important for everyone to win that trophy. The manager, like us, he lost in the final as well and it’s tough. We’re the ones stepping over the white line, so not being able to deliver that for him was obviously disappointing. But it’s great for us all to get over that line and that makes you want to experience more and win more. You can see how hard we’re working on the training field and the job he’s done and the great job the club have done at recruitment as well – both the manager and the people on that side. You can see how exciting the squad is and the young guys have been in – people like Harvey [Elliott] and Curtis [Jones] coming up – it’s exciting times to be at the football club. I’m delighted to be here and it’s great news that the manager is going to be here as well and continue the great job he’s done so far.
What has he done for your game specifically?
He’s given me a few more positions to play, which is nice and makes me a better player! You’ll do anything you can for the team, he’s a top manager, he motivates the team, he motivates the lads, he knows when it’s right to give a rollicking and he knows when it’s right to give an arm around people. There’s credit within the dressing room for the team spirit we have but a lot of credit has to go to the manager and his staff, how they look after the players, the set-up they have, how they go about things to create the right atmosphere and we’re all in it together. He’s a top manager. I’ve worked with many, many managers throughout my career – some better than others – and he’s right up there with the best of them, if not the best. It’s great to be here for a few more years and like I said, hopefully together we can win a few more trophies.
It’s a special day for you obviously, but your focus will switch to Watford immediately after this, won’t it?
Yeah, it’s nice to get it done. It’s business as usual, it’s carrying on and in my head obviously I’ve wanted to be here for a few more years so not too much changes in my head. I just want to crack on and keep doing what we’re doing and keep pushing for this Premier League title and the other honours we can win this year.
Jordan Henderson said earlier this week that it’s boring to keep saying that the focus has to be on one game at a time, but is there any other choice?
Not really, and that’s the way we think. It’s hard to give a different answer that isn’t true: that’s what we focus on and if you thought more than one game ahead you’d go pretty mad really! The amount of games we have and we’re going here and there, playing against them and them, and all the different things that can happen. For us, it’s as simple as we prepare for a game, we play the game, hopefully win the game, we recover and then we go onto the next one and concentrate on that. That’s the way we do it – it’s been successful so far and that’s the way we need to keep doing it.
Next week it’s something a bit different with the FIFA Club World Cup. It’s an opportunity to win it for the first time for Liverpool, to get that gold badge on your shirt…
Yeah, it’d be nice. It takes some doing, winning a trophy that Liverpool hasn’t won so it’d be nice to hopefully do that! It won’t be easy, we know that. Hopefully the weather’s a bit different to how it is here at the moment, so in that sense it might be good to break up the December part of the season, but it’s business as usual when we’re out there. Obviously it’s nice to have a change of scenery, but again: we want to win trophies and that’s a big trophy. It’s a big honour to be going there and hopefully we can win it. To be called the best team in the world would be special. That’d be nice to get but we know it’ll be difficult and we have to take the same quality of performance and the same attitude into next week, like we do every other game.
You’ve mentioned trophies repeatedly throughout this interview so we can probably guess what your answer is going to be, but what are you hoping to achieve over the course of this contract and what would your message be to the fans?
Exactly that: I want to be as successful as I can with the football club, win as much as I can and contribute as much as I can. It’s important to me to help in any way I can wherever it is, whether it’s in the full-back positions or centre-half or whatever I’m asked to do, I’ll do it and hopefully contribute to the club. Like I said before, the fans have been incredible since I’ve been here, the support they’ve given us, the amount they have to travel to get behind us and they do it repeatedly, the atmospheres they create. You know how much it means to people when you see them, they’re coming up to you and saying, ‘Thanks for number six’ and about the Premier League title. I think I’ve seen a change in the last couple of years in the trust and belief in the team on the fan side, there’s not as much nerves in Anfield when we’re pushing for the Premier League and things like that. We know there’s a long way to go but you sense that trust in the team that we’ll get the job done and we know they’re with us every step of the way. It’s a great relationship between the team and the fans and that’s what we do, it’s their club and that’s why we’re here: to try to win trophies for them. It’s amazing when you travel around the world and there’s Liverpool fans everywhere and hopefully for the rest of the time I’m here I can make them proud and keep pushing and keep improving us as a team.
Centre-half would be a new position for you…!
Well, I’ve done it for 45 minutes before so we’ll see! Hopefully it doesn’t come to it but if I’m needed, I’m there.