736 things that have changed since James Milner made his Prem debut
It has recently occurred to our editor that James Milner is now the only player who was in the Premier League when he started university (in 2003) and is still there today. He’s now having an existential crisis.
Let’s not forget, Milner is an outlier, a one-off, a freak. We wrote two years ago that him still playing was making us question everything we thought about football and the crazy bastard has played another 80 games in the two seasons since then.
So it goes without saying that, aside from our editor realising he’s old, plenty has changed since Milner made his Premier League debut for Leeds United back in 2002. NB: We don’t know the actual number of how many things have changed, we just know it’s a lot. And 736 is his number of senior appearance since his debut.
Milner’s first taste of first-team action came on November 10, 2002 as a late substitute for Jason Wilcox in Leeds’ 4-3 win at West Ham.
Wilcox ended his playing career with Blackpool four years later, and indeed every other player who started for the Whites that day has long since retired. Nick Barmby, who scored the first goal, even has a 25-year-old son playing in America. He was approaching his eighth birthday on the day of Milner’s debut.
Paul Robinson was the last of the players to retire, but even that was three years ago. Terry Venables was sacked before the end of the season and never got another gig as a manager again.
Full team: Paul Robinson; Gary Kelly, Lucas Radebe, Teddy Lucic, Ian Harte; Eirik Bakke, Lee Bowyer, Nick Barmby, Jason Wilcox, Harry Kewell; Mark Viduka.
Peter Reid took charge for the last eight games in 2002-03 to help Leeds stay up, but they were relegated the following season amid a financial crisis, just three years after playing in a Champions League semi-final.
Leeds have gone on to spend three seasons in the Championship, three in League One and then a further nine back in the second tier. They are currently in their 10th at that level and hoping to finally get back to the Premier League some 488 Milner top-flight appearances on from his last one in white.
In the time they have been away, Leeds have gone through 15 managers. Fifteen.
On the weekend that Milner made his debut for Leeds, Liverpool lost 1-0 at Middlesbrough. It was the first defeat of the season for Gerard Houllier’s team in the Premier League, who ultimately finished fifth and, as we all know, failed to end their wait for a top-flight title until 2020 with a 34-year-old Milner in the squad.
Unsurprisingly, every member of the Liverpool team that day against Boro is now retired. Houllier stayed in charge for another couple of years before being replaced by Rafa Benitez in 2004, with Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers going on to warm up the hotseat ready for Jurgen Klopp.
Full team v Boro: Jerzy Dudek; Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Djimi Traore, John Arne Riise; Steven Gerrard, Salif Diao, Dietmar Hamann, Danny Murphy; Emile Heskey, Michael Owen.
Manchester United won their eighth Premier League title in Milner’s breakthrough season and added another five before Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. They haven’t won another one since.
Arsenal finished second and won the title the following season without losing a game, but it was their last. Arsene Wenger has been and gone, and these days they’re battling just to finish inside the top six.
Newcastle finished third but have since been relegated from the Premier League twice, while Chelsea finished fourth and have since been bought by Roman Abramovich and won the title five times, the FA Cup five times, the League Cup three times, the UEFA Cup twice and, oh, the Champions League.
Also in the Premier League in 2002-03 were Blackburn, Charlton, Birmingham, Bolton, West Brom and Sunderland. Bournemouth, by comparison, won promotion from the fourth tier via the play-offs.
🗓 #OnThisDay in 2015, Liverpool signed James Milner on a free transfer.
👕 211 games
⚽️ 26 goals
🎯 39 assists
🏆 Champions League 2019
🏆 European Super Cup 2019
🏆 Club Word Cup 2019
🏆 Premier League 2020pic.twitter.com/2V323Gk7oq
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) June 30, 2020
A couple of days after Milner’s Leeds bow, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England beat Slovakia 2-1 in a qualifier for Euro 2004. David Seaman started in goal and Gareth Southgate at centre-back. One of them is now a keen angler, the other is the England manager.
All of the starting XI and substitutes from the game have retired, albeit Ashley Cole only hung up his boots a year ago after a last-man stand at Derby County.
Talking of which, Wayne Rooney also made his breakthrough for Everton in 2002-03 and had scored *that* goal against Arsenal three weeks before Milner was introduced onto the scene. Rooney made his England debut the following year and go on to win 120 caps, becoming the national team’s all-time record goalscorer before retiring from Three Lions duty in 2017.
Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden were both two years old at the time of Milner’s Leeds debut.
Milner became the second youngest player to appear in the Premier League that day against West Ham, but today he is only 15th on the list. The following year Milner became the youngest player to ever score in the competition, a record which James Vaughan broke in 2005 and still holds.
He left Leeds for Newcastle United in 2004 with 60 senior appearances to his name, six of them on loan at Swindon Town. He is now up to 737 and is comfortably the elder statesman of current Premier League players: Mark Noble, Leighton Baines, Phil Bardsley and Pepe Reina are next on the list, but none of them played their first games in the league until 2005-06, three seasons after Milner.
He has won 61 England caps, three Premier League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League, Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. He’s gone from being considered boring to the funniest man on social media, he’s as Yorkshire as ever, and we absolutely love him.
Some things will never change.