KENNY Miller knows how it looks. Perception is everything. Now based in Vancouver, the 32 year-old has reported for Scotland duty just weeks after two of the most disappointing evenings of his international career.
After a spate of call-offs, he is surrounded by unfamiliar faces. As ever, however, he has proved a willing contributor, even for what is just a friendly. In Luxembourg. In November. Meanwhile, Steven Fletcher and a raft of English Premier League stars have remained at home, as many suspected might be the case.
For those who thought his time in international football is up now Fletcher has returned to the fold, think again. Miller yesterday said he will still be turning up in his forties, if required. His 11-year Scotland career has already seen him play under seven permanent and interim managers.
At first glance, Craig Levein’s tenure as Scotland manager was a good one for Miller; he played regularly and maintained his place as No 1 striker in the group. He was even appointed captain for the first time.
On closer inspection, however, there were hiccups. After a notorious night in Prague, Fltcher was not the only striker left with his nose out of joint. Miller had been looking forward to winning his 50th cap but quickly learned that Levein had devised a system that was not heavily reliant on strikers. In fact, there wasn’t one required. Miller took his place on the bench and only emerged for a brief cameo at the end of an inglorious evening, while Fletcher seethed in a seat in the stand.
What happened next is well known. Fletcher sent a text to a member of Levein’s backroom staff telling him to inform the manager he was unavailable for a forthcoming squad, beginning a 20 month period of exile.
It was often left to Miller to defend his then manager’s stance. “Why are we even discussing Fletcher if he has ruled himself out?” he would ask. It was clear that Miller found Fletcher’s actions mystifying. But then came last month’s pair of critical World Cup qualifying fixtures, against Wales and Belgium. An under-pressure Levein relented and made contact with Fletcher, who was the English Premier League’s in-form striker at the time. Bread was broken and Fletcher parachuted straight into the team at the expense of Miller, who had captained – and scored – in Scotland’s last outing, against Macedonia. “It was a blow,” admitted Miller yesterday. “I told Craig that. I knew I was going to be disappointed if that was [going to be] the case, and it did hurt. I felt it was harsh to go from captain of the team and scoring in the previous game to not playing. I don’t think he expected me to feel any other way. He said he knew it would be tough. He was the manager and he had to make the decision on who he felt was right for those games.
“It wasn’t a case of being let down [by Levein],” he added. “When you start saying let down, it means you are having a go at the manager. I told the manager what my thoughts were, but I never felt let down. I had a good relationship with Craig, he was good to me. He gave me the opportunity to captain my country and I will always be grateful for that. Managers have to make decisions and I accepted it.”
He might have accepted it, but it is clear Miller did not agree with the decision. He displayed a flash of frustration yesterday when contemplating Fletcher’s sudden promotion from outcast to lead striker. He understood why Levein had offered Fletcher a way back in, but Miller was not so approving of the decision to put him straight into the team.
Although he doesn’t say it, it’s apparent that he believes he was the loser after a tide of public opinion had been brought to bear on Levein. For so long a Tartan Army favourite, Miller had to accept that he was not now flavour of the month. It wasn’t just due to Fletcher’s rehabililitaton. Jordan Rhodes’ arrival on the scene meant there had been a thirst for change at the beginning of the campaign, which, to be fair to Levein, he withstood.
With so much at stake against Wales and Belgium, the manager’s resolve with regard to Fletcher melted. Miller believes the manager was unfairly pressurised into making a change in the lone forward’s position.
“Everytime we turned up [for games], we would get asked about Fletch,” he said. “People were asking for it and they got it, so you can’t flip it around and start moaning about it.
“For me it was disappointing because I was the one who suffered and didn’t play. As players, we always said that we needed the best. We did it in the Barry Ferguson situation.
“Fletch is undoubtedly one of our best, especially when he is playing at the level he is and doing well. We need him. It was right Fletch came back – maybe not straight into the starting line-up, but back into the fold. It was the same with Commo [Kris Commons]. Whether it means coming straight back in, I don’t know. Some people might look at it being wrong, some might say it was right.”
Miller hasn’t shown up for a low-key friendly with Luxembourg for entirely selfless reasons. Joining up with the Scotland squad has proved practical, on this occasion. The Major League Soccer season has now ended and Miller was returning home to Scotland anyway. He also wants to keep himself fit in case he decides to go elsewhere on loan, with a view to being ready for Scotland’s next competitive game against Wales in March. The new MLS season is due to start just three weeks earlier.
“There are a lot of hurdles to be crossed between leagues,” he said, with regards to a loan move being sanctioned by both his club, Vancouver Whitecaps, and the MLS.
“I will probably come back here for a bit, and if I am here I will be looking to keep busy.”
Someone suggested that Hibernian, the club where he started his career, could be a loan-deal option for a native of Musselburgh.
“The Hibees?” he smiled. “They are top of the league, they don’t need me now.
“I’ve genuinely not thought about it, because there are things that have to be overcome for it to happen. After this game I will have a wee think about what I am going to do.”