Liverpool’s season to date has thrown up a number of special moments, and James Milner has been at the heart of two which will long hold significance.
Amid the Reds’ relentless charge towards the Premier League title, the club have competed across five other competitions and as a result, have seen 45 players take to the field.
And a staggering 23 of those players donned the Liverpool shirt for the very first time, with the majority debuting in domestic cup action.
The League Cup fifth-round tie at Aston Villa led to the club’s most debutants in one game, with eight, as Jurgen Klopp’s senior contingent were in Qatar being crowned world champions.
Fast forward less than two months and a commitment to a winter break once again enabled Neil Critchley to take the helm, overseeing the Reds’ youngest-ever assembled side as they sealed a 1-0 win over Shrewsbury.
Leighton Clarkson, 18, was present on both occasions; first making his debut as a substitute at Villa before earning his first place in the XI in the FA Cup at Anfield.
Pedro Chirivella at 22 years of age and with just 10 Liverpool appearances to his name at that point was the most experienced member of the squad in the latter.
But the presence of Milner in the lead-up, in the dressing room and behind the substitutes’ bench provided a calming influence over the club’s youngsters and was indicative of the character he is.
At the time he was recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in the third-round meeting with Everton and while staying behind in Liverpool instead of jetting off for a holiday was a nod to his incredible levels of professionalism, his desire to be present for the academy players left a sizeable impression.
Critchley couldn’t “thank him enough” for being at the game, while for Clarkson the vice-captain’s involvement “was brilliant” as he acted as a calming agent and exemplified the significance of the performance and result in how he celebrated.
“To be fair, I don’t think there were that many people [who were] nervous because a lot of them have already had that experience and Critch was saying things that calmed us down,” he said.
“James Milner was in the dressing room and spoke to us and told us there was nothing to worry about.
“That’s the type of person [Milner] is. Obviously he has had a lot of experience in the game and enjoyed a great career.
“He has got the experience and knows what to say at the right times, so for him to be there and tell us all these things before the game was brilliant.
“After the game, he was celebrating more than most of us! That’s just how he is and he was a massive help.”
For Milner, his decision will have come as just second nature, but the purposeful intent to be present for such an occasion will not have been lost on that team.
Small gestures such as that are the lifeblood of a football club, establishing harmony from top to bottom and they’re integral to creating an environment where players feel appreciated and valued.
And Milner’s acts extends beyond youth players, as Adrian can attest to.
Liverpool became the Spaniard’s fifth club in his career during the summer and he was quickly thrown into the hot seat four days after signing following Alisson’s calf injury.
After being introduced from the bench on the cusp of half time in the league opener, Adrian’s first start for the Reds came in the UEFA Super Cup final against Chelsea.
He quickly became the hero after saving Tammy Abraham’s spot-kick to secure the title on penalties, the first honour of his career.
And while he was still very much the new face in the group, a move from Milner to see the trophy reside with him for the night was the ultimate sign of acceptance and a telling nod that both he and the team consistently have the bigger picture in mind.
“James [Milner] told me to take the trophy with me for the night,” Adrian explained.
“It took me several seconds to realise he really meant it. Who better than me, he said. So I agreed.
“Getting into the room with the Super Cup, my first title…Awesome.”
While small in the grand scale of the events which have transpired to date this season, Milner’s acts are the kind which lay the foundations for the well-oiled machine we see on and off the field.