There is a brief moment when James Milner lets his guard down and sounds more like a Leeds United fan than a Manchester City player. City host Leeds in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday and it will be the first time Milner has come up against the hometown club where he burst on to the scene as a teenage prodigy more than a decade ago. Sold to Newcastle a couple of years later, Milner gives the impression that he took his boots with him to Tyneside but left his heart at Elland Road.

"I speak to my mum and dad about the club, and my uncle and all my mates are big Leeds fans as well," Milner says. "They're on the up, if you like. It's a better situation than it was when they were in League One not so long ago. It's a massive club and I believe, along with many others, that they should be back in the Premier League. Hopefully it's a time of stability for us."

The "us" was an innocent slip of the tongue, albeit one that underlines just how much Leeds mean to Milner. Born in Yorkshire, Milner started watching Leeds in 1993, at the age of seven, and quickly fell in love with the club where his parents were already season-ticket holders. A few years later he joined Leeds's academy and was training three times a week, attending first-team matches as a ball-boy and playing schoolboy football for their junior sides on a Sunday.

The next stage of his development passed by in a blur. "I remember my dad ringing me up and giving me my GCSE results when I was at Thorp Arch for pre-season training. A month later I was playing in the first team," Milner says, smiling. "It was pretty amazing really. I think if you stopped and thought about it at the time it would have hit you."

Milner had to grow up quickly. He became the second youngest player to appear in the Premier League when, aged 16 years and 309 days, he made his debut in a 4-3 win at West Ham in November 2002. A month later Milner became the youngest player to score in the Premier League when he equalised against Sunderland, nine days before his 17th birthday (James Vaughan later broke that record playing for Everton against Crystal Palace).

He was living the dream but by the end of the following season his world caved in. Leeds, on the brink of financial collapse, were heading for the Championship and their fate was all but sealed following a 4-1 defeat at Bolton. It was almost nine years ago but the match, and in particular the aftermath, still feels raw and has penetrated Milner's mind in a way that winning the FA Cup or the Premier League never could.

"I remember the game at Bolton. It always sticks out better than the triumphs you had," he says. "We were doing all right and then I think [Mark]Viduka got sent off and the game went from there. It was a terrible day, going over to the travelling support. I think I came off for the last 15 minutes and I remember being sat in the dugout at the end of the game and the feeling was one of the worst things I've ever felt, especially knowing that you've given everything and it wasn't good enough.

"That feeling I'd had a few years before, of making your debut and having your friends and family there and how proud they'd be, and then to experience the flip side … And you've got the feeling as a fan as well as a player. It was shocking really. I remember there was plenty of tears in the dressing room afterwards, mostly from the local lads who came through the academy, people like Smudger [Alan Smith] and Robbo [Paul Robinson], who it hit a bit harder."

A fire sale followed, although Milner knew nothing about his imminent departure to St James' Park and had little say in the move. "I had played two seasons but I was still only 18 and I didn't really know the ins and outs of how things worked," he says. "I came in for the first day of pre-season training and someone said to me: 'You're going up to Newcastle for a medical tomorrow.' And that was that.

"At the time the club needed the money and it was the right thing to do. I was going to a good club in Newcastle and working with an unbelievable manager in Bobby Robson. It was the best for Leeds and in the end it worked out well for me as well. I had the chance to play with Alan Shearer to join the list of class players I'd played with at a young age at Leeds – the Vidukas, Smiths, Kewells and Woodgates.

"I'm just disappointed that I didn't get to play for Leeds a bit longer. Maybe if I had been born a few years earlier, I might have got involved in the Champions League runs. But I enjoyed every minute and it's the first result I look for every Saturday."

While Leeds have nothing to lose at the Etihad Stadium, City's season will effectively be over if they are dumped out of the FA Cup, with last Saturday's chastening 3-1 defeat at Southampton leaving the champions 12 points behind Manchester United in the title race with only 12 games to go.

"The disappointment was massive [after the Southampton result]," Milner says. "You can't win every game, although we go out there to try to do that. But there's ways that you lose games or draw games and we know that performance was a million miles away from the standards that we've set.

"The manager had his say and we've spoken about it as a group of players as well. We don't need anyone to tell us whether we've played well or not. We have a dressing room full of international players – we know, for us, it wasn't good enough. It's down to us now to bounce back and win a tough game against Leeds."

It promises to be a day of mixed emotions for Milner, who seems certain to get a decent reception from the Leeds supporters. "You're going to have fans who like you or hate you – that's football," Milner says. "All I can say is that I love the club and every time I pull on the shirt, whether it's been for Leeds, Newcastle, Aston Villa or Man City, I give everything.

"Hopefully that's good enough for the Leeds fans and they'll know when I was there I gave everything for them."

James Milner was speaking at the opening of the Etihad Campus Metrolink tram station, which will operate for matchgoing fans for the first time on Sunday against Leeds United. Milner, along with Roberto Mancini, Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany, has recorded public announcement messages on the trams which passengers will hear