The former Aston Villa boss is delighted to see a player he has always held in the highest regard continuing to enjoy the success he deserves
Any manager would “take 11 James Milners” in their side, says Martin O’Neill, with the former Aston Villa boss billing the Liverpool star as an “identikit pro”.
It remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old will figure again for his current club in the 2019-20 campaign, with an unfortunate injury forcing him out of the Merseyside derby on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp is hoping that Milner will not be sidelined for long, with his versatility proving to be a useful weapon in the Reds’ armoury.
That has been the case wherever a seasoned performer has gone, with Villa, Newcastle and Manchester City among the others to have benefited from the presence of a model professional.
O’Neill worked with Milner in the West Midlands and still considers the ex-England international to be one of the finest performers he had the pleasure of coaching.
He had no desire to sanction a transfer to City in 2010, but accepts that there was to be no holding back a man who is fast closing in on a third Premier League title of his career and one who is thoroughly deserving of all that he has achieved.
“Perhaps I took it too personally when he wanted to leave because we were getting a lot of money for him from Manchester City,” O’Neill told the Daily Star.
“At the end of the day he was consistently excellent for us. We were doubling our money but he was irreplaceable for me.
“James was going there to further his career and certainly further his future financially. But to me, we were trying to compete with the likes of City and Tottenham at that particular point in time. Maybe another season and we might have done it. It was disappointing.
“But I’ve got to say, I could not be more pleased for him for getting the career and the medals he so thoroughly deserves.”
O’Neill added on Milner, who started out as a tricky winger but is also capable of filling defensive berths when required: “He can run with the ball, score you a goal. He was terrific. He was never my teacher’s pet, but he was terrific for me.
“James just covered so much ground. He is like the identikit pro. He doesn’t drink. He puts everything into his training and his game. He’s put football at the top of his list of priorities so it’s certainly no coincidence he’s still going strong.
“Klopp’s played him in virtually every position at Liverpool. You’d take 11 James Milners in your side if that were possible.
“I tried to get him first and on deadline day he was less than three miles from Villa’s training ground and he was told to go back. He would have been very cheap then – about £4m, if I recall. I chased him again and kept going and when things weren’t working out for him at Newcastle we paid £12m for him. Not bad business.”