James Milner is explaining why he chose Brighton & Hove Albion, and a reunion with former Liverpool team-mate Adam Lallana, for his 22nd season in succession in the top flight of English football with a sixth different club.

“It just felt right in terms of a fit,” says Milner, in an exclusive interview with The Athletic. “ Speaking to Ads (Lallana), I heard a lot of good things — seeing how the team played, the journey the club’s been on, where they are at in their journey and wanting to keep improving.

“The owner (Tony Bloom) has taken the club on and they’ve done a great job, top to bottom. They’ve made some fantastic signings and players have blossomed here. It felt like the right fit for me.

“I feel as though I can contribute to the club on and off the field and help in that journey.”

During their five seasons together playing under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool won the Premier League and Champions League, and were runners-up in the Europa League with Milner and Lallana in their ranks.

Rolling back the years, the pair have joined forces again as Brighton embark on their first ever venture into European football this season, alongside Liverpool in the Europa League.

Milner has followed Lallana to the south coast — as he did at Anfield, signing in June 2015 from Manchester City almost a year after Lallana’s move from Southampton.

Brighton is the furthest south that Milner has been in terms of the clubs he has played for, in his words “by a long way”, during a career where the 37-year-old Yorkshireman has amassed 619 Premier League appearances across spells also with home city club Leeds United, Aston Villa and Newcastle United, accompanied by 61 England caps.

Milner has played a limited role in pre-season but wants to be a key part of Brighton’s team (Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

The geographical implications of uprooting after eight years with Liverpool is a further indication of the fire that is still in Milner’s belly at the prospect of a fresh adventure with Brighton, who he joined as a free agent in June.

“I haven’t come here to see out the last few days,” Milner says. “I want to push, I want to keep going as hard as I can and take the players around me and push them as well.

“Hopefully, they can push me, I can push them and we can have a good season.”

Lallana’s influence in Brighton’s progression since ending his six years at Liverpool by signing, also on a free transfer, in July 2020 has been transparent, initially under Graham Potter and even more so since Roberto De Zerbi became head coach last September when Potter left for the Chelsea job.

The 35-year-old former England international has contributed a lot on the pitch in 74 appearances over the past three seasons — it would have been more game time without his injuries — and in the dressing room, where he is a vocal presence even when he isn’t playing.

Brighton were keen to get Milner on board for similar reasons on a one-year contract, with the option of a second year, as they enter new territory on the continent.

“I just want to contribute as much as I can on and off the field,” Milner says. “Ads has contributed so much to this club since he’s been here, what he’s brought to the team. You see his influence everywhere and the relationship he has with the manager, who knows how important he is to this group of players.

“It doesn’t matter who plays the most, it’s about contributing to the cause and having a successful season. As the older, senior guys, hopefully we can keep pushing these younger guys to their potential, push their boundaries and get their mindsets to where they need to be and let them blossom.

“There’s so much quality in that dressing room. If we can keep pushing them and helping them improve, then they can reach their potential as soon as possible.”

Another major enticement that has attracted Milner to relocate to a seaside resort two hours’ drive south from London is the chance to work under De Zerbi. Lallana spoke in glowing terms about what that’s like in an interview with The Athletic in March.

“I’m really enjoying it,” Milner says. “He’s obviously a top manager, the way he goes about his work, the level of detail, the personality he shows, the hunger, the desire, how into it he is with the players is great to see.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing managers in my career — some not so good as well. Working with Jurgen, who is one of the very best, for the amount of time I did. That’s what excited me about coming here as well — working with the manager.

“He’s a top manager already, and he will only get better. I want to keep learning, keep becoming a better player and expand my knowledge and experience as much as I can.

“The fact I get to come here and work under a manager like that was a big draw and something I’m really enjoying.”

Milner says seeing Klopp and De Zerbi proverbially kick every ball is important to him (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Milner sees parallels with Klopp in De Zerbi’s all-consuming passion, his animated antics on the touchline and his thirst for success.

“Their intensity and desire to win is a big one,” Milner says. “Bouncing around on the touchline and wanting to be out there with you. That’s a big thing when you see your manager showing that sort of emotion and that will to win. He wants to be out there with you — feels every kick. That’s great to know that they are right there with you. That’s definitely a similarity.”

Milner, renowned at Liverpool and throughout his career for his fitness levels, hasn’t been involved as much as he would have liked in the build-up to the season. He was part of their three-match pre-season tour to the U.S. without getting any minutes in defeats by Chelsea and Newcastle, divided by a victory over Brentford.

A typically tenacious and competitive introduction as a 71st-minute substitute at left-back — one of the multiple positions he is capable of occupying — was warmly appreciated by a 10,000 crowd at the Amex Stadium during Sunday’s 1-1 friendly draw against La Liga side Rayo Vallecano.

“It’s been a bit frustrating not to get on the field,” Milner said. “I felt good (against Rayo). I’ve worked hard in training and been pushing, now I feel good.

“I worked hard in the off-season and had a little niggle coming back, which was frustrating and disappointing. I’ve got involved in training as much as I can, watched all of the sessions. Even though it’s been frustrating, I’ve been around the boys a lot, going to America. I feel part of the group.”

Milner’s biggest contribution will be in helping De Zerbi’s players adjust to Thursday night fixtures in Europe, followed by Sunday ones in the Premier League, with the inevitable increase in squad rotation across the various competitions.

“It’s very difficult if you are not ready for it,” Milner says. “I think we will be ready. We have players who have experienced it before. It’s always different doing it separately than as one group, but the quality of the players we have in the squad is important.

“It’s important to have the mindset right — people understanding they won’t play in every game but everyone is absolutely ready to go whenever they are required. That strong mindset is massively important: dealing with the quick turnarounds, the travel, different styles of play against different teams, and having the ability to keep that intensity and mindset right the way through.

“It’s one thing having intensity for 38 games in a Premier League season and the odd cup game, but you’ve got the European games on top of that. We have to be ‘at it’ 100 per cent every single game, every three days, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

(Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images)