James Milner: I wish I’d played for Leeds longer

James Milner

Milner left Leeds in 2004 after their relegation from the Premier League, joining Newcastle for an initial £3.6m as an 18-year-old.

But the midfielder, now 32 and enjoying life in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool midfield, says his Whites departure came as a surprise when he was suddenly informed of an impending medical at Newcastle the following day.

Speaking in the September 2018 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, in shops and available online, Milner says: “It was a very tough time to get relegated and there were a lot of financial things going on – things in the papers, off-field problems… you had to grow up quickly by watching the senior players and how they were dealing with everything.

“As hard as it was, I learned a lot very quickly. Within two years I’d had numerous managers, and highs and lows. By the start of my second season, Peter Reid had come in and I was sent on loan to Swindon. I did quite well there, went back to Leeds and started playing in every game.

“But then, in 2004, I turned up on the first day of pre-season thinking we were going to discuss a new contract, and someone said: ‘You’re going up to Newcastle for your medical tomorrow’. I was like: ‘Am I?’ That was tough.

“It was disappointing that I didn’t get to play for Leeds for longer, but to do it at all was pretty special.”

Milner had previously become the Premier League’s youngest ever goalscorer while playing for Leeds as a 16-year-old against Sunderland in December 2002 – a record that was later broken by Everton’s James Vaughan in April 2005. Two days later he netted again, this time against Chelsea.

When it came to leaving, Milner – a Leeds fan, season-ticket holder and former ball boy – waived money he was due by the club upon his departure, just like the Manchester United-bound Alan Smith.  

“What little money the club owed me, I gave up to help them, and they got a transfer fee,” Milner told FFT.

“So it was portrayed to me that it was in the best interests of the club [for me to leave] due to all of the financial difficulties. I thought I was going the right thing by the club.”

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The September 2018 issue of FourFourTwo is available in shops now, featuring the rest of this lengthy career reflective with James Milner and exclusive interviews with Jesse Lingard, Christian Eriksen and Roberto Firmino. Find out how Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa inspired Pep, Poch and Simeone, and read Ryan Mason’s first-hand account of his life-changing head injury. All that and more in the latest FFT. Subscribe!

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Joe Brewin

Joe was the Deputy Editor at FourFourTwo until 2022, having risen through the FFT academy and been on the brand since 2013 in various capacities. 

By weekend and frustrating midweek night he is a Leicester City fan, and in 2020 co-wrote the autobiography of former Foxes winger Matt Piper – subsequently listed for both the Telegraph and William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards.