James Milner has described the intensity of the training sessions implemented by Jürgen Klopp and his coaches, and revealed the mentality behind his own remarkable fitness levels.
The Liverpool vice-captain, now 34, has made 33 appearances so far in 2019-20 to help his side open up a huge lead at the top of the Premier League and become world champions too.
With the season currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Milner spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live about his career in the game and experiences since joining the Reds five years ago.
The discussion included insight on Melwood training sessions, the mindset that continues to keep him at the highest level, and why it was imperative Liverpool went on to lift the Champions League after their semi-final comeback against Barcelona last May.
Read some of the highlights below…
On his longevity and fitness…
Fortune is one [thing], I think you need that luck with injuries and things like that. But I’ve always tried to do whatever I can to give myself the best opportunities, whether that’s looking at diet and gym work; I did that as early as Leeds and Newcastle, the gym stuff, and that’s developed as well. I just try to push myself. Earlier in my career, maybe five or six years ago, people were saying ‘You’re going to have to start toning down your work in training and reducing your numbers and output in training to keep that longevity’ and I didn’t really agree with that. I thought, obviously I’m going to drop off at some point in terms of physical output and things like that, but surely if I push myself more, the further distance I’ve got to fall. If I do drop off then I’ll be in amongst the pack as opposed to dropping from the middle pack downwards. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. I’ve always tried to push myself, always tried to keep the young lads in place in terms of running and stuff like that. I’m sure I’ll get reeled in at some point but I’m hoping that’s not for a few years yet.
On last season’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona…
It wasn’t a bad performance by us in the Nou Camp, we had chances. I remember I had at least one half-decent chance. I thought we played pretty well. Messi did his Messi-like things, the free-kick was ridiculous, and it was just one of those games you felt a bit hard done by. We came away from there with that disappointment and then we have to go to Newcastle still chasing the league title, who have a right go at us. We win that late on, with the emotion and energy we had to expend there. And then the night before the Barça game, we’re in a hotel and City obviously played [and beat Leicester City]. The deflation of that the night before, then you have to go and turn around a deficit to Barcelona. All that added to the effort. We walked into the training ground the next morning and the manager said before the meeting, ‘Has anyone got anything to say about that? No, nothing. Right, here we go. It’s pretty impossible but if anybody can do it, we can.’
The way we went about the game, there was no panic. There was urgency but it felt methodical how we went through the game. We got a good start and the crowd was behind us. I remember getting a corner in the first minute and the roar was incredible just from that. Getting the goal, after that it wasn’t gung ho. They are obviously so dangerous, I thought we defended well. We had to rearrange at half-time. Robbo says that’s his greatest contribution as part of a Liverpool team, going off at half-time in that game and bringing Gini on! From that moment and once you get the momentum at Anfield and the goals, it was special because of the occasion obviously, but how good a team Barcelona are and the experienced players they had in their team, that made it more special. It wasn’t any team we managed to turn over like that, it was an unbelievable team with experienced players.
We had a similar night against Dortmund in the Europa League a few years before with an unbelievable comeback – but we couldn’t get the job done. And that was so important once we got through against Barcelona, that we finished the job. The Dortmund night is looked on fondly because it is a great memory, it was a great comeback and a great Anfield European night, but there was no trophy at the end of it. Obviously with the Barcelona one it was an incredible story on its own as a one-off game but then it goes and gives you No.6. Obviously, that was massive.
On how he personally ranks Klopp as a manager…
He’s right up there at the top, if not the best. His training sessions are different to anything I’ve ever done before. You never, ever do a session [on autopilot], whether it’s a passing drill or a shooting drill – everything is reacting to the next situation. If we do a shooting drill there’s three or four balls going on at the same time; ‘keepers are having nightmares going for one shot then straight for the next one. You’re clipping a ball to someone else and as you’re doing that another ball is on its way to you to shoot. The training is completely different to anything I’ve seen. The whole thing around it is reacting to the next situation and staying in the game. He’s very good at always thinking about what might affect a game. He’s very aware of what’s going on around it and always tries to nip anything in the bud that might affect the team’s performance or mentality going into the game. That’s one of the strengths he definitely has in terms of preparing that side. Obviously he’s a great coach in how he prepares us for every game as well, but in terms of that side he’s always very aware of what could stop you putting in your best performance and going into the game fully fresh mentally.
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On his record of never having lost a Premier League game in which he’s scored…
I never think about it! My old man is normally the one who brings it up after a game, he says, ‘Oh, your record is still intact’ if I score. Probably the biggest thing with that record is I haven’t scored as many goals as I should have. But it’s ridiculous isn’t it, really? I can’t explain why. It’s crazy really, something I can’t really explain.