A move to Canada hasn’t dulled Kenny Miller’s international ambitions as he considers a loan deal to prolong cap career
The move to Vancouver Whitecaps in July meant Kenny Miller notched up a fourth club inside 19 months. The fact he is willing to contemplate adding a fifth team to his recent odyssey before the year is out shouldn’t be taken as a sign he has itching powder on his soles. Instead, it is testament to the fact that there is one side the 32-year-old will never scratch. And it is Scotland’s importance that gives rise to the belief from the 61-times-capped forward that the Major League Soccer schedule in isolation may not satisfy his international aims.
The league season in North America runs from March till November. That means Miller would only likely to be able to pack in a couple of games with his Canadian club before Scotland’s World Cup double header in March 2013 at home to Wales and away to Serbia. The former Hibernian, Rangers, Wolverhampton, Celtic, Derby County, Bursaspor and Cardiff City frontman considers that unhelpful timing and may be the cue to add one more name to his CV by engineering a loan move back to Britain during the North American off season. Robbie Keane, now with LA Galaxy, did this to keep himself pepped up ahead of the Euro 2012 finals, and Miller discussed the Irishman’s brief stint with Aston Villa when Galaxy thrashed Vancouver recently… a four-game losing streak that has threatened their play-off place being the only aspect of his latest football adventure Miller has not enjoyed.
“I’ve thought about a loan spell towards the start of the year,” he says. “I’ll definitely have to train during the MLS close season but we’ll have to wait and see what can and can’t be done. The fact we finish in November and pre-season doesn’t start until February is not great preparation for a double header in March when you want to be at the top of your game.”
Miller admirably exhibits a first-timer’s enthusiasm for representing his country – 11 years on from earning his first cap. Moving to Vancouver was not some sort of “retirement programme”. “The lifestyle was part of it,” he says of a move to a city that regularly tops polls as the most appealing place to stay on the planet, “but it was something I always wanted to try. You see the players who have gone there in the past five years; they are all big names. I wanted to go there and win.”
And rack up the air miles for his country because Miller says he will never have a retirement plan when it comes to a national side that he is desperate to represent at a major finals. “I’ve put a lot of thought into it. There’s never been any question about wondering if I wanted to continue – I’ve always wanted to play and always will – but I’ve had to think about how to manage it,” says Miller who, with 16 international goals, is sixth in the all-time Scotland scoring rankings. “As long as the manager’s happy, and I’m still playing and performing, then hopefully it’s not too much of a problem. But these games in March will obviously be an issue.”
The need to jet halfway across the world to do his duty isn’t an inconsiderable matter either. Especially when he jokes that the SFA aren’t keen on allowing him to travel business class for the eight-hour flight from London. “I’ll need to sweet-talk them,” he grins. “The travelling is different from coming up the road, obviously. Even the fact you can’t get a direct flight. It’s a big step. Maybe if you’re not playing internationals you won’t have the travelling to worry about too much, but you’re still moving a long way away from family. My mum’s coming out when we get back but you’re leaving family and friends behind and you’re not going to see them anywhere near as much as you have done.”
That aside, the transition he says has been pretty straightforward. In that sense, it has been in complete contrast to the five months he endured in Turkey at the start of last year, wherein the cultural challenges proved insurmountable. In Vancouver he found “friendly faces”, most notably fellow internationalist and former Celtic team-mate Barry Robson, and a competitive environment out of keeping with the power-follows-spending philosophy of the British game.
“It’s pretty good, the way the league is built,” he says. “There’s a level playing field in terms of a wage cap and the teams who are the weaker teams the season before being allowed to strengthen with the first picks in the draft.
“The league is designed to be competitive. We’ve played the top team and the bottom team since I’ve been there and there genuinely isn’t much between them I think that’s good for the game. The draft is the way they do a lot of the sports over there. It is different from here. Down south you have the super-rich clubs who can go out and spend whatever they want on players, while the Old Firm have dominated in Scotland. You can’t do that in the MLS.”
Miller’s determination to remain a player for club and country as long as is humanly possible is such that does give headroom to travelling all the way from Vancouver even if the emergence of Jordan Rhodes or others reduces him to the status of squad player. “I’ll do this campaign and being realistic, it probably will be but if I’m still able to play at the start of the next campaign I’ll still be putting myself forward. Then its up to the manager, if he feels he wants to move on, but the time will never come when I say that. You can always play a part. It might not be the same part I have played for the last six or seven years, but these are questions for the manager and he’ll make the decision when time that comes round.”
Miller might have become a real footballing nomad, but the calling from home for the Scot has a power and permanence nothing else does in his professional life.