Brighton are closing in on James Milner – they don’t want to be one season wonders – The Athletic

Completing their first ever league double over Manchester United with a 99th-minute penalty by Alexis Mac Allister at a jubilant Amex Stadium is just the start of a journey for Brighton & Hove Albion.
They have no intention of being one-season wonders as they push for Europe via a top-seven finish this month. That is why they are closing in on the signing of James Milner.
Bringing on board the 37-year-old Liverpool and former England midfielder will add to a core group of serial winners regarded by the club as extra coaches on the pitch for Roberto De Zerbi and role models in the dressing room for the talented young players that make up the bulk of the Italian’s squad.
Joao Pedro, the 21-year-old Brazilian forward Brighton are signing from Watford of the Championship for a club-record fee of just under £30million ($37.8m), would benefit from the combined nous of Milner, Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck and Joel Veltman.
Pedro’s move will be announced as soon as all the details have been finalised with Watford. Brighton are keen to wrap up a deal for Premier League royalty too in the shape of Lallana’s former team-mate Milner.
When he received his MBE from Prince William at Windsor Castle in March, Milner and family members coincidentally ended up staying in the same hotel and eating in the same restaurant as Brighton chief executive Paul Barber and his clan. Barber had been awarded an OBE at the ceremony.
Milner has been on Brighton’s radar for some time. They knew his contract was ending this summer and that it might not be renewed.
He is regarded internally as a perfect fit for Brighton’s plans. In common with several De Zerbi’s squad, Milner can play in multiple positions across defence and midfield. For example, Jurgen Klopp brought him on in the centre of the park for Curtis Jones for the last six minutes of Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Fulham at Anfield on Wednesday to see them over the line.
Milner will not be a regular starter for Brighton either at this late stage of his career. The signing is as much about what he will add to the group off the field as well as on it in terms of leadership and setting and maintaining standards.
Having Milner to call upon next season — particularly if Brighton qualify for either the Europa League or Europa Conference League — will be of huge value to De Zerbi.
Milner, capped 61 times between 2009 and 2016, has been a three-time Premier League winner, a Champions League winner and a Europa League finalist in a top-flight career spanning two decades with Leeds United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Liverpool. He has won every domestic trophy.
Brighton are hopeful that their potential — and the persuasive powers of former Anfield team-mate Lallana — gives them the edge over rivals for Milner’s signature, such as Championship title winners Burnley.
Lallana — who was urging the team on from a seat behind the bench at the Amex on Thursday evening as he continues his recovery from hamstring surgery which has ruled him out since January — is also a Premier League winner, Champions League winner and Europa League finalist, and has 34 England caps.
Their former England team-mate Welbeck, operating for 75 minutes in the false No 9 role he has adjusted to under De Zerbi against United, won the Premier League with Thursday’s opponents and two FA Cups with Arsenal.
Then there is Veltman, who was ruled out last night by a recurrence of hamstring trouble. Capped 28 times by the Netherlands, the versatile defender won three Eredivisie titles, and reached a Champions League semi-final and a Europa League final, with Ajax.
The Dutchman was pitchside at the final whistle, congratulating his team-mates as they came off, celebrating a win warranted by their second-half dominance which lifted Brighton to sixth in the table, a point above Tottenham and Aston Villa and within four points of Liverpool in fifth.
⏱️ 90+9
Alexis Mac Allister converts a dramatic late penalty with aplomb to give Brighton all three points against Manchester United!#BHAFC | #MUFC | #BHAMUN | #PL
🎥 @SkySportsPL
— The Athletic | Football (@TheAthleticFC) May 4, 2023

They still have two games in hand on each of those three clubs.
Defeating United again, after winning 2-1 at Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the season under Graham Potter, represented sweet retribution twice over.
There was delicious symmetry about grabbing the spoils so late with a penalty — awarded for a blatant handball by Luke Shaw from a corner — following the 7-6 defeat in the shootout in the FA Cup semi-final against United at Wembley last month.
Mac Allister’s emphatic spot kick, struck with the authority of the World Cup winner he became with Argentina in December, was additionally the latest penalty scored in a Premier League match since Bruno Fernandes in United’s 3-2 victory here at the Amex in September 2020 (99 minutes and 45 seconds).
De Zerbi, without a right-back in the absences of Veltman, Tariq Lamptey (knee) and Pascal Gross, who is nursing a minor issue, switched influential Ecuador star Moises Caicedo from midfield to cope with Marcus Rashford.
“Caicedo can play everywhere. He’s a top, top player,” said De Zerbi, who was less than 100 per cent himself because of a virus which caused the cancellation of Wednesday’s pre-match press conference and threatened his animated place in the technical area.
Whether Milner has Mac Allister and Caicedo as colleagues next season if he signs is open to considerable doubt. But Brighton are determined to keep rolling forward — with or without their in-demand South American duo.
(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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Andy Naylor worked for 32.5 years on the sports desk of The Argus, Brighton’s daily newspaper. For the last 25 of those years he was chief sports reporter, primarily responsible for coverage of Brighton and Hove Albion FC. Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyNaylorBHAFC


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