Leeds United academy graduate gets chance to make Premier League history 22 years after Whites debut

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James Milner is still going strong more than two decades after first stepping out for Leeds United.

James Milner could feasibly become the Premier League’s all-time record appearance maker next season after extending his stay with Brighton for a further year.

Milner joined fellow England international Danny Welbeck in signing a fresh one-year contract with Brighton on Tuesday, having initially signed from Liverpool on a free transfer last summer. The versatile midfielder will now spend the off-season preparing for an incredible 23rd campaign of Premier League football.

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“I am as driven as I’ve ever been and I’m excited for next season,” Milner told Brighton‘s club website upon signing the new deal. “I really enjoyed the first half of this season as the club played in Europe for the first time, while the second half has personally been disappointing with a couple of injuries, but I will be ready for the start of next season.”

The 38-year-old made his first-team debut as a baby-faced Leeds United academy graduate in November 2002, coming off the bench to replace Jason Wilcox in a thrilling 4-3 win at West Ham United. Milner became the second-youngest ever Premier League player at the time and soon became the league’s youngest ever scorer after netting his first goal against Sunderland the following December.

More than two decades later, Milner has evolved from energetic young winger to versatile midfield stalwart and racked up an incredible 634 Premier League appearances in the process. He leapfrogged ex-Manchester United man Ryan Giggs (632) into second and now has his sights set on Gareth Barry’s record of 653.

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That means Milner must feature in 20 top-flight league games next season, an increase on the 15 he managed this term. But the experienced midfielder has been out since February with a thigh injury and so a campaign of full fitness could feasibly see Barry’s record broken.

It would represent an incredible achievement for one of the best players to come out of Leeds’ academy system in recent memory, with Milner enjoying success across the country since leaving West Yorkshire as part of the 2004 post-relegation fire sale. 

Milner spent the largest portion of his career at Liverpool, racking up 230 league appearances over an eight-year spell between 2015 and 2023. It was there that he won the majority of his major honours including a third Premier League title and the 2018/19 Champions League.

The two previous league titles came at Manchester City in 2012 and 2014, with Milner also winning the FA Cup and League Cup at the Etihad. Prior to those spells, the Whites academy graduate spent time at Newcastle United and Aston Villa.

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Milner has regularly been linked with an emotional return to Leeds towards the end of his career, with reports suggesting a move could have been on the cards when Marcelo Bielsa had the Whites in the Premier League. Nothing ever came to fruition, however, but Daniel Farke will hope to welcome Milner and Brighton to Elland Road next season with Leeds still on course to win promotion via the play-offs.