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James Milner: I was fired up to prove doubters wrong after move from City to Liverpool

 

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James Milner left the Etihad for Anfield on a free transfer in 2015.

James Milner left the Etihad for Anfield on a free transfer in 2015.

James Milner left the Etihad for Anfield on a free transfer in 2015.

James Milner says he has been driven to silence those critics who wrote him off when he left Manchester City.

The veteran Liverpool midfielder returns to the Etihad Stadium on Thursday in the Reds' first game since securing their first league title in 30 years.

The 34-year-old claimed two league titles with City - he is the only current Liverpool player to have previously won the top flight - before moving to Anfield in the summer of 2015.

The ex-England star suffered a stinging rebuke from many in the game who thought he had made a mistake making the swap on a free transfer.

"I like the fact that you said a lot of people thought I was making a mistake," said Milner, who is the only first-team regular left from Jurgen Klopp's first game in charge just weeks after his own arrival.

"That is one of the things that drives you. I was in a fortunate position of staying at City or going to Liverpool. City is a great place and I'm sure if I stayed things would have been good.

"But it was a chance to go to Liverpool, a hugely successful club that didn't have that recent history of winning things."

Milner, who is equal fifth in Premier League all-time appearances with Gary Speed, was part of the City squad that had taken the 2013-14 season from under Liverpool's nose and saw a club smarting from the tag of underachievers.

He explained: "There were the near-misses a couple of years before where I was on the right side of it.

"Coming in and seeing the hangover of that and the comments such as 'You nearly won the league, you nearly won the league', that had to be got rid of and forgotten about to move on.

"It was fantastic to win the Champions League and the history this club has with that, but we know everyone was desperate to win the league in the context of the great teams, how long it had been, how close they'd been and how unlucky they had been.

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Milner won the Champions League with Liverpool this year (Martin Rickett/PA)

Milner won the Champions League with Liverpool this year (Martin Rickett/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Milner won the Champions League with Liverpool this year (Martin Rickett/PA)

 

"To win it and be part of it, that was the one when I thought how special it would be to win a league title.

"Everyone was desperate to do it and so to be able to do that now is incredible and I'm so proud to be part of a side to do that. When you see the scenes and how much it means to the fans... driving round the city and seeing all the flags outside the houses.

"It is great to enjoy it with each other and yourself, but how long the fans have waited. You think of the ages of certain fans and those who have never seen it.

"Some who were young when it happened now have kids who have only seen it online and in videos."

It's all been done, of course, under the Reds' talismanic boss.

"I think he's a special manager - you could see that before he came to the club - but also a special person in how he goes about things," Milner said of Jurgen Klopp.

"The credit goes right to the top in bringing him in. The players that have been signed and identified... not only good players but the characters that have been brought in.

"I was lucky enough to be there when the manager first came in and (I have) seen that journey."

Klopp was given more time to win silverware at Anfield than Ulsterman Brendan Rodgers, but the board's faith was rewarded with the Champions League in 2019 and their first league title in 30 years.

Milner added: "It was bit by bit, improving all the time... getting 97 points and not winning the league, losing out to a special Man City.

"It's (about) 'What else can we do?' or 'You know what? We can do better'."

And even though they're now enjoying their newfound status as champions of England, Milner is certain that attitude and hunger won't change in the final seven games of the season.

Liverpool wrapped up the title when nearest challengers Manchester City lost at Chelsea on Thursday.

They are now 23 points clear of City with seven games remaining and have their rivals' 100-point record in their sights.

"That is a definite motivation," Milner continued. "Not so much the record, I think it's just the responsibility of pulling on a Liverpool shirt and going out on a football field with that responsibility to win a game.

"That is what is expected of us and you are always pushing to be the best you can.

"How many chances to get that amount of points? It's incredible. How many chances are you going to get to do that?

"You wouldn't want to look back and think, 'Oh, we won the title, but the last seven games we were poor, we didn't get at it'."

Belfast Telegraph