THE Doors really should have been pounding out to provide the soundtrack to Kenny Miller’s post-match thoughts at Hampden on Friday night.
Here was a man who seemed at one with an old friend, the end, if a touch wistful that football’s grim reaper should be preparing to scythe his international career. Had Scotland sneaked a win against the Welsh there would have been all manner of hogwash about World Cup hopes having a faint pulse. Instead, the 2-1 defeat, the third consecutive loss in a group that has yielded Scotland only two points from five games, put prospects firmly six feet under.
Miller didn’t need to have spelled out to him the implications of the latest, most premature, expiring of qualification prospects for a major finals. The forward has now played in all but two of the eight unsuccessful campaigns Scotland have endured since they made it to France ’98.
“You get to 33 and that’s probably another campaign away. It’s looking highly unlikely I will play in a finals and that’s hugely disappointing,” admitted Miller, who is struggling for Tuesday’s encounter in Serbia with a knee problem.
“All of 12 years ago I made my debut against Poland. That’s nine managers ago [including two caretakers]. You have to go and make the most of it and try to go that extra step. I believe the Euro 2016 campaign maybe becomes a little bit easier [with the number of teams in finals going up from 16 to 24] so let’s hope we can make that one – probably without me. That’s something the manager will have a look at and I will as well. There’s nothing in my career that has meant more to me than playing for my country and I am honoured to have played 67 times. If somebody had said ten years ago I would have 67 caps it would have been a dream. This was a big squad, this one, with a lot of attacking players and wee Ross [McCormack] had to pull out, and he’s another mid-20s forward. There will come a time, whether it’s the manager or myself, that retires me.
“It looks like it will be very tough to get back into the shake-up in this campaign, so I will probably look at that at the end of it.”
If Miller doesn’t travel to Serbia, his international career could effectively be over now. The man who has scored more goals for Scotland – 17 – than all but five other players in history was a surprise choice to come off the bench when Steven Fletcher twisted his ankle inside two minutes on Friday night.
With Jordan Rhodes considered the future, an opportunity seemed to present itself to give the 22-year-old valuable international experience in the here and now. Miller, however, acquitted himself well enough, and had a couple of headers towards the end of an excruciating first half hour when “we looked like we had taken some kind of stage fright”.
The veteran, whose career has taken him to Vancouver Whitecaps after spells in Turkey, England, and Scotland, where he became the first player to play for Rangers, Celtic and then Rangers again, accepts that younger players in the squad must step up and shine in the spotlight on occasions such as that which saw them wilt on Friday.
“If you look at these lads, they are all fantastic players. [Robert] Snodgrass, Burkey [Chris Burke], [Graeme] Dorrans, and Fletch [Steven Fletcher] up front. Wee Shaun [Maloney] is a bit older but relatively new about the international set up – he’s been in and out for a number of years now. These lads are all top players playing at a really good level. Fletch at the moment has got the shirt, it’s very unfortunate he’s got injured tonight but there’s a few other lads who will be staking a claim for it along with me.”
Wales manager Chris Coleman called some of Scotland’s tackling “brutal but within the law”, but Miller believes new manager Gordon Strachan, with whom he won the title at Celtic, is entitled to expect his players to be forceful.
“When you play at this level you can’t let people walk over you. It took something to get us back in the game,” he said.
“If that was putting a few tackles in and trying to get the crowd on our side, that was what it took because, for the first 20 minutes, we weren’t at the races. We finished the first half well, with the goal, and started the second well. The penalty changed the game and then it was disappointing to lose the second goal so soon afterwards, before we regrouped.
“With the way his [Strachan’s] teams have played in the past, he’ll want that competitive edge with more quality in possession because we barely strung two or three passes together in that first 20 minutes. The manager hasn’t said to go about kicking people but he has emphasised the need to get up against them and not allow them to have possession, which you never saw in the first 20 minutes.
“But at the end there James [McArthur] was nicking it off [Aaron] Ramsey and possibly going through to get a goal. That’s a side the manager has been working on, to press the game.”
Whatever he has been working on, it has not galvanised the national team in the manner expected – it was hoped that Strachan would have the same instant impact on replacing Craig Levein as Walter Smith did when he took over from Berti Vogts.
“It was always going to be a long shot for us to get back in [contention in the qualifiers],” Miller said.
“The manager still has an opportunity to get that kind of effect. We will try everything we’ve got to get results but it looks like it is going to be petering out so the next one is going to be a big one and hopefully we can get that kind of response for the next campaign.”
For “we” Miller really means “they”, but old habits die hard.