James Milner has comfortably played more minutes under Jurgen Klopp than any other manager, but the coach who has called on him the second-most is Martin O’Neill.
The veteran midfielder has clocked 13,696 minutes on the pitch for Klopp at Liverpool, making 202 appearances for the German so far—which is 90 clear of any of his previous coaches.
While Milner featured in more games under Roberto Mancini at Man City (112), O’Neill trusted him with more minutes while at Aston Villa, edging the Italian by 762, for a total of 7,804.
He averaged 84.8 minutes on the pitch per outing under O’Neill, a feat only bettered working with a manager on a long-term basis during his season under David O’Leary, also at Villa, in 2005/06.
It is safe to say O’Neill understood the quality and consistency he was able to call upon in Milner, and speaking to the Star, the 68-year-old hailed Liverpool’s vice-captain as the “identikit pro.”
He also dismissed the ‘Teacher’s Pet’ nickname he was given at Villa, though it is unlikely the No. 7 would be concerned given his professionalism has allowed him to forge a remarkably successful career.
“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,” O’Neill recalled.
“Truth be known I actually had a different teacher’s pet every week, but I’m glad to know that Teacher’s Pet went on to win so much in the game.
“I would politely suggest those who said it, the likes of Steve Sidwell and Curtis Davies, haven’t gone on to have careers anything like the one that Milner has enjoyed.
“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.”
It is not the first time Milner has been referred to in these glowing terms: a quick search of his name and ‘manager’s dream’ unveils a wide array of ex-pros and coaches alike that have praised him as such.
In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, with his contract at City in its final months and interest from Liverpool mounting, Manuel Pellegrini—fourth in Milner’s ‘minutes played’ list—claimed he was his “No. 1 fan.”
“Find me a more complete English player,” he challenged.
“There are players who’re better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes. But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn’t one.”
At the time, Pellegrini reflected on Milner’s contract situation and a deal on the table from City, saying “if he doesn’t [stay] will be because there’s an important offer.”
It certainly proved to be an important offer from Liverpool, as Milner has enjoyed the most prominent role in his career at Anfield, and having signed a new deal in December, looks poised to continue that until at least 2022.
By then he will be 36, but as O’Neill attests, a player who has “put football at the top of his list of priorities” should still be going strong.