Less than a month after Wayne Rooney scored that goal against Arsenal in 2002, James Milner made his professional debut for Leeds United. On as a substitute for six minutes in place of Jason Wilcox, he was only 16-years-old.
A local academy product that came just a little too late to enjoy the heady splendorous of Champions League football, it is intriguing, almost sixteen years on, that as Rooney awaits a likely move to one of Major League Soccer's lesser lights, Milner is preparing for a Champions League final.
Between club football and his 61 international games for England, Milner has already played over 700 matches. Yet, he remains a perfect fit for the physically demanding style Jurgen Klopp employs at Liverpool.
Speaking to The Times ahead of this unlikely Champions League final with Real Madrid, Milner was in a reflective mood. Charting a career that has taken in any number of great, traditional English clubs, Milner has at one stage or another represented Leeds, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and, now, Liverpool.
Dwelling on some of his moves, he appreciates how some of them may construe a certain feeling on Milner's part about a certain other Premier League club:
It’s never a personal thing. It’s the club. I have friends who are Manchester United fans — not many — so it’s not that personal but as soon as I step on that field . . .
Growing up a Leeds United fans, Milner "was never allowed to wear a red T-shirt, my old man never allowed it. Seriously. 'We can't wear red. We're Leeds.'
Signing for Liverpool in 2015, Milner recalls his "dad made a joke about it, saying, 'That's the first time I've seen you in red.'
Still an avid Leeds fan, Milner did have some words for a predecessor of his in the club's academy who dared to cross the Pennines for good:
Alan Smith went down in my estimation slightly! He's a top man, amazing guy. I've always spent a lot of time with Wayne Rooney with England, great lad, enjoyed his company.
Michael Carrick too. Gary Neville! That is probably the most surprised I’ve been at meeting somebody. When you see Gaz on the pitch he seemed such a horrible person but I was in one England squad with him, and then [experienced his] coaching, and he’s a really funny guy, and I like him.
Liverpool may well be the limit for Milner it seems.