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'Milner is a bit like Ronaldo' - The fitness secrets behind the Liverpool star's longevity

08:00 GMT 10/01/2022
James Milner Liverpool 2021-22
Former Manchester City physio Paul Webster tells GOAL why the Reds midfielder has been able to thrive at the highest level for almost two decades

James Milner has been playing Premier League football for almost two decades.

The Liverpool midfielder turned 36 on January 4, but shows few signs of slowing down, having played in more than half of Jurgen Klopp's side's games this season, including starts in crucial clashes against Manchester City, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.

Milner may well have celebrated his birthday with just a glass of Ribena, as he famously did when Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019, but it is that commitment to his own health and fitness that has maintained his longevity at the highest level.

"It’s the little things that he does every day that make up a whole package," Paul Webster, the former Manchester City sports therapist who worked with Milner during his five years at the Etihad Stadium, tells GOAL.

“When I see him play now, it's like time hasn’t moved on; he's like he was 10 years ago.

“James is probably a little bit more pedantic in his food and his drink and what he does in his general lifestyle, but that's not to take anything away from some of the other players that would come in and work just as hard.

"But, originally, James' overall package is what I noticed.”

Milner remains one of the fittest members of the Liverpool squad despite being the oldest, while only four outfield players born before the ex-England midfielder have appeared in the Premier League this season: Thiago Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernandinho and Ashley Young.

Ronaldo, in particular, is known for his high fitness standards, focusing on marginal gains so as to ensure he remains in peak condition, and Webster believes that Milner shares some of the Portuguese's traits.

“I watched him (Milner) against Chelsea and he was probably one of the fittest on the pitch,” he adds. “He looks young, he looks fit, he's probably got eight per cent body fat or something ridiculous.

"He's a bit like Ronaldo. I've never worked with Ronaldo, but I know people that have and I get the same impression. It's all the little things that add up, and they have more little things to add up.

“It's everything: drinking, James doesn't touch alcohol; food, he's meticulous with how much he eats; his timekeeping is perfect; he has goals – he wants to be fitter and stronger as months go by; his general behaviour and his internal discipline.

"It's no surprise to me whatsoever that he's still playing, and he'll roll on for another few years yet.”

Webster worked at City for 12 years during a time of incredible change, as the club went from lower mid-table to Premier League champions.

He could be found praying in the Etihad Stadium tunnel when Sergio Aguero scored the 93rd-minute winner against QPR that clinched City's first title in 48 years.

Of course, that dramatic late finish underlined the incredible fitness levels and desire to keep going until the very last second of club legends such as Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta.

However, Mario Balotelli also played a pivotal role in that historic title triumph and while many have questioned the enigmatic Italian's attitude over the years, Webster says the striker was fully committed behind the scenes.

“He was amazing,” Webster says. “It's the norm now to say Mario was this or Mario was that, but what I was lucky enough to see was that he was a phenomenal athlete who trained as hard as anybody at the club.

“He was phenomenally strong and agile. He would come into the gym after training, and he loved his Muay Thai [kickboxing].

“When you work with someone every day, you ignore all the daft stuff that goes on in the press and we're in a little bubble there. That's how Mario was; he was good fun.”

Webster left City in 2016 to start his own sport therapy clinic, Premcare, in Didsbury, and now works across a number of sports, specialising in soft tissue injuries, including treatment management and rehabilitation.

It is something that amateur athletes, as well as professionals, have to be wary of, particularly at this time of year when many people will think about restarting fitness regimes as part of their New Year’s resolutions.

A return can sometimes be painful and potentially off-putting, particularly for people who have got out of shape during lockdown or over Christmas, but Webster has some tips that will help some maintain their focus.

"The first thing is mentality, to say: 'I'm going to get back into it." But don't rush it. Start back on a little. Go out, do a bit of running, some stretching, yoga – all these things need to be built up.

“If you've had months of doing nothing and you start, you're going to get what's called delayed onset muscle soreness. You go out, do a run and next day you're really sore and all your muscles are aching.

“There's not a lot you can do about that because it will happen. Once it's happened, then you can do things like a recovery session.

"The first time you go out running or football or whatever it is, you can do contrast bathing – get in a cold bath for a couple of minutes, then a hot shower, back in the cold bath and a hot shower and that limits how much soreness you'll get in the muscle and is an effective way of eliminating this trauma you're causing muscle tissue.

“The next day, you can do some light, progressive stretching. Nowadays, you can just blast YouTube and put on any yoga session you want on there.

“You could do a 10-15 minute yoga hit and then the day after that you could go out and try another run. Once you've done that a couple times, you'll find the muscles then don't react as much.

"As long as you keep that going, then you'll start to get stronger and more adaptable because you've started the process."