When Kenny Miller signed a new 12-month extension at Rangers this time last year, he may well have envisioned a stately final lap at a club where he has enjoyed rare privilege and undoubted success.
He could not have predicted falling out with two different managers before the deal was up. Nor could he have imagined being banished to the Under-20s, recalled and then, as of yesterday morning, suspended.
It now seems certain he has played his last game of his third spell at the Ibrox club, leaving him just one short of 300 appearances. What seems set to count as his farewell performance was a decent one too. Miller struck his first goal in six months to help Graeme Murty’s side beat Dundee 4-0.
This might have been one of the problems. The striker felt he stood a reasonable chance of featuring in the following weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic. However, circumstances dictated he was an unused sub.
The feeling he was somehow ill-served was underlined by his wife Laura’s injudicious tweeting amid the bitter fall-out after the Hampden clash. Miller, she stressed, was as fit as anyone else in the squad and has “big game Old Firm” qualities. Perhaps. But what he is now doing is fighting to save his reputation. He will not have wanted to be spied leaving Ibrox yesterday along with Lee Wallace following a disciplinary meeting. Unbeknown to them, a hidden camera caught the pair discussing how best to make their exit.
Miller, looking trim as ever, should be contemplating a glorious denouement to his storied Ibrox career. He should not be reduced to sneaking out a side entrance.
There are just five more games this season, the last of which is a return to Easter Road, the home of his first club Hibs. Although Rangers cannot afford to bow to sentiment at a time when they are seeking to secure second spot, he would undoubtedly have had a part to play. Indeed, this was more likely after Sunday, when several players did their best to play themselves out of contention.
But Miller’s frustration at being overlooked at Hampden spilled over to an extent that Murty, an ally following the striker’s problems with Pedro Caixinha, considered his behaviour to be beyond acceptable. So too have the Ibrox top brass.
To fall out with one manager is unfortunate. However, two looks like extreme carelessness on the part of Miller, whose 21st season as a professional has certainly proved eventful.
He began it by figuring in a new low for Rangers when they crashed out of Europe against Luxembourg side Progres Niederkorn. Before long he was clashing with Caixinha, who had handed the player a new contract just months earlier. Miller was banished by the Portuguese and was told not to attend first-team games. “The manager chose to act in a certain way,” Miller reflected in October, following Caixinha’s departure. “There was only one man who could put that right and he chose not to do it.”
Miller received plenty of sympathy. It did indeed remain unclear why he had been exiled. It looked petty on the part of Caixinha and seemed based on a desire to expel those with enough clout to challenge his authority. Club captain Wallace, who was also suspended yesterday by Rangers pending an investigation, was also told to stay away by Caixinha.
It now seems a little suspect it’s the same two players who have been carpeted after falling out with Murty, who, just six months ago, couldn’t get Miller back into the fold quick enough.
Once Caixinha’s reign had been put out of its misery after a 1-1 midweek draw with Kilmarnock, Murty returned to hold the fort. He immediately re-instated Miller to the side for the next game against Hearts, with the striker scoring twice. Wallace’s case is different in that he has not played since September due to a groin injury. He has remained a presumably frustrated onlooker, which makes his involvement in Sunday’s meltdown seem opportunistic and even less forgivable.
Ironically, Murty’s first task on returning to the role of interim manager was to mend a divided dressing room. “It’s important that the players feel together,” he said before the trip to BT Murrayfield, where Hearts were playing at the time. He promised to quickly address the issues with Miller and Wallace. The former was sent to play for the Under-20s, where Murty had no complaints about his application.
“If the players know anything from [yesterday’s] training session, it’s that I want their input,” Murty said on the eve of the Hearts fixture.
“They have to have a voice within the training session, within the dressing room. It’s about them.”
Fast forward six months, to a dressing room filled with high emotion, and it’s clear Murty wasn’t so thrilled to get input from two of his most experienced players. We may never know exactly what happened. But it seems things went beyond a passionate post-mortem. They must have done for Rangers to take such drastic action.
Miller and Wallace are not only two of their most established stars, they are vice-captain and captain respectively. Wallace has been regarded as a totem figure of the Ibrox club’s so-called journey back from the fourth tier. Miller, meanwhile, is able to command respect for his achievements, durability and all-action style. He is considered a Rangers man. The heart of the dressing room has been ripped out at a delicate time.
The Ibrox side’s season is at risk of unravelling following a period of promising form when they strung together six successive wins.
After Hearts on Sunday, they face the little matter of a rematch with Celtic. The trip to take on their rivals, who could be seeking to secure a seventh successive title, now seems more daunting than ever. The team news is Miller and Wallace are both out, likely for the long term. Murty, however, limps on, for now.