Jurgen Klopp paid tribute to James Milner for the “massive” achievement of reaching 600 Premier League appearances as he described the Liverpool vice-captain as an exceptional player and person who has been fundamental to their success in recent seasons.
Milner, who made his debut for Leeds 20 years and two days earlier, came off the bench in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Southampton to join Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry in a select group.
Klopp, who was surprised to learn that even former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard had not reached 600, reacted to being told that Milner had made 833 club appearances in all competitions by saying: “Wow”.
And he explained: “It is only the fourth player, right? A lot of things must come together. You must be a really good player, a top, top, top professional and with the right training.
“I am really proud to be around when he reached that milestone. He is an exceptional player, an exceptional person and essential to everything we achieved in the last few years. We knew today, [on] 599 there was no chance he wouldn’t come on and it is cool, well deserved. It is massive. He knows everything about the game.”
Milner himself struggled to comprehend what he has done, saying: “It’s a big number isn’t it? It’s unbelievable. It’s been a very long time. You see someone like [17-year-old] Ben Doak come on the other night at a similar age [as when he made his debut] and do well. Hopefully they can have a long career as I have.”
The 36-year-old now has the unusual experience of a mid-season break as Liverpool pause for the World Cup and Milner added: “Hopefully I’ll play a bit of golf and a bit of rest - but not too long because when you get older your kneecaps go a bit. It’s about getting that balance right.”
Roberto Firmino scored once and Darwin Nunez twice in the win over Southampton, leaving Klopp deeming it a game of two halves.
He added: “The first half was really good and the second half was not. We made a lot of mistakes in the second half. In the first half we did everything Southampton didn’t want us to.”
Klopp watched the game from the stands as he served a touchline ban for his red card against Manchester City and he was annoyed that the FA only told him on Friday afternoon.
He explained: “It was not too cool we only got the information yesterday. I expected to get the ban of course but when it is Friday afternoon, with training done, we had to organise a bit.”