Alex McLeish reckons Kenny Miller has shown the same “selfless” attitude in his decision to quit playing for Scotland as he has done throughout his long career.
Hitman Miller announced he’d played his last match in the dark blue of his country just days after marking his 69th cap with a memorable goal against England at Wembley, a revelation McLeish admitted had caught him by surprise.
But while the 33-year-old, who is now playing for Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer, has done so in a bid to pro-long his club career, he’s also acutely aware there are several younger players such as Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher and Leigh Griffiths pushing for a place in Gordon Strachan’s squad and he doesn’t want to stand in the way of them gaining vital experience.
Today McLeish, who was Miller’s manager at Hibs and Rangers as well as in the international arena, said: “That’s a selfless attitude but there’s also the fact he’s now playing in Canada and to continue playing for Scotland would involve a hell of a lot of travelling. Kenny will know his legs will eventually give up at some stage and he has to try to preserve them in order to keep making the salary he is earning.
“I was a bit shocked but he’s going out at the top, scoring at Wembley with a memorable goal – it’s just a pity it wasn’t the winner. Kenny has been a great servant to Scotland, he’s had a terrific career. He’s been a bit of a lone wolf in that role up-front, even at Wembley you saw him coming back into his own half to stop England mounting attacks while being in a good position to mount a counter-attack.”
And the way in which he took his goal last week epitomised, in McLeish’s opinion, the experience he has gained over the years, collecting Alan Hutton’s pass before wrong-footing England defender Gary Cahill and turning to bury an inch-perfect shot beyond goalkeeper Joe Hart.
McLeish said: “Kenny has a decent goals ratio. He evolved really well as a player. He might have liked a dual partnership for long periods of his career but his style of play worked for him, ploughing that lone furrow. But he’s a clever player and you could see his experience shining through at Wembley.”
That Wembley strike was Miller’s 18th international goal and McLeish recalled first meeting the then fresh-faced youngster at Easter Road.
“Jim Duffy had introduced him to the team but evolution dictated he was going to feature more regularly under me. He just got better and better”
So much so that Rangers made a £2million bid which Hibs eventually couldn’t turn down. McLeish recalled: “Hibs had resisted and resisted but I remember being on holiday in Qatar with some friends who were working our there and having a conference call with the board when the offer got to the point it was too good not to take and try to improve the team and strengthen the squad which we duly did.
“And you can’t stop a boy from going on and trying to prove himself.”
Miller moved on from Ibrox to Wolves, before criss-crossing the border as he made a shock return to Scotland to become only the third player since the Second World War to play for both sides of the Old Firm when he joined Celtic only to go back to England to play for Derby County. A second spell at Ibrox followed and then an ill-fated move to Turkish outfit Bursaspor although, McLeish revealed, he missed out on taking Miller to Birmingham City.
He said: “Towards the end of my tenure there, the season we won the Carling Cup, we had just too many injuries to strikers so I tried to get Kenny in as I am sure he’d have helped us stay in the league. He would have been a great addition but the lure to the Turkish Lira proved too powerful for even an English Premier League club.”
Miller’s failure to settle in Turkey saw him move to Cardiff City only seven months later, the reported transfer fee of £870,000 taking the total paid by clubs for his services to close to £11m.
But as delighted as he has been to see Miller carve out such a career for himself, McLeish insisted he couldn’t have predicted such a rise to fame for the scrawny kid he first clapped eyes on at Easter Road. He said: “I don’t think you can ever say anyone is going to have that kind of career.
“We all knew Sir Alex Ferguson was a great manager but could you have said he was going to go on and win 30-odd trophies. It’s hard to predict something like that. There was no doubting Kenny’s ability but it you’d asked me when he left Easter Road if he’d go on to get nearly 70 caps, I don’t think so.
“I’d maybe have felt he’d be a Scotland player and perhaps get 20, but what he has done has been magnificent.”