As Rangers supporters take a deep breath before the onslaught of discussion evaluating the merits of a third stint for Kenny Miller with the club takes hold – it is important to look back & assess why the Vancouver Whitecaps decided to part ways with the 34 year old.
First, we need to be clear – Miller’s dip in play in MLS does not necessarily guarantee that the downward trajectory would continue in Scotland. The quality of play & the depth of talent in MLS has moved pretty far beyond the level of talent & performance seen in Scotland – both at the SPFL level & obviously the Championship level. The resurgence of Kris Boyd’s career is a clear indicator of that. Boyd went from seven goals in 22 appearances for the Portland Timbers to 24 goals in 43 appearances this season with Kilmarnock. Boyd is in line to become the Player of the Year in Scotland, after finishing the season lucky to make the subs bench in Portland. Compare the number of World Cup performers coming from the leagues in Scotland to MLS – if you are currently shaking your head in doubt.
Ironically,it was a change in management that ultimately doomed Miller as it had for Boyd.
Going into the new MLS season, Kenny Miller was coming off an impressive, albeit injury plagued, season under the management of Martin Rennie who would be fired in the off season. Enter new manager Carl Robinson, who made it clear from the outset that if Miller wanted a contract extension that he would have to prove it on the pitch.
If you simply look at the statistics over the last two seasons, there was a noticeable drop in Miller’s effectiveness.
In the 2013 season, Miller scored eight goals & had one assist in 21 matches. His non-penalty goals per 90 minutes average was 0.38.
In the short sample that is the 2014 season, Miller had scored three goals in nine matches. However, two of those goals came from the penalty spot. So, his non-penalty goals per 90 minutes average dipped to 0.14.
However, the poor play went beyond the numbers. He was failing the ‘eye-test’ as well.
“Kenny started the season well but as the team developed it became clear that the coach preferred a lone striker with a bit of pace to lead the line. This meant Miller was asked to play in a wide role which didn’t suit him.”
“When he did switch back to the middle his lack of pace didn’t really suit the team and the likelihood is that if he had have stayed he wouldn’t be a starter all that often.”
“The one thing you can say about Kenny Miller is that he will always hustle. His work ethic is unmatched, and that’s really what makes him such a great leader on the pitch, he leads by example.”
“That being said, he wasn’t scoring as much as he needed too, given his high salary. In MLS, his salary is just too much on the books for 15 goals in 34 starts.”
So was Miller’s tenure doomed once there was a management change? Were Miller’s claims that he wanted to stay simply a public relations ploy? It is difficult to say. After his fast start there really was a sense that Vancouver was a better team when Miller was thriving. But then Vancouver began to struggle, going four matches without getting a win. They finally won their last league match with San Jose. A match in which Miller started on the bench in what would be his final hurrah in MLS.
Berrisford said, “In his last appearance (as a second half substitute) there was the sense that Miller’s heart wasn’t really in it and, sure enough, his departure was announced the following day.”
He added, “I think the ‘wanting to stay’ may have been somewhat overplayed.”
“The likelihood is that both parties probably wanted to reach a deal but had very different ideas of how much that deal should be. Once that became apparent there was only going to be one outcome.”
Szekeres elaborated, “It looks like Carl Robinson was asking Kenny to consider taking a ‘reduced’ role moving forward in his Whitecaps tenure.”
“Also, though no firm offer was made, it’s believed that the Whitecaps were looking at slashing his salary to be more in line with that role. With Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks, Sebastian Fernandez, Erik Hurtado, and the recently recalled Omar Salgado, there is simply a log-jam in the striker position.”
“Furthermore, it’s believed Miller’s wife Laura was unhappy living in Vancouver, and that also lead to the decision. Laura spoke out on Twitter saying it was tough being so far from home, knowing nobody, with her husband on the road all the time, but that she still loved the city. I think it may have influenced Kenny slightly, but I highly doubt it was the mitigating factor.”
“Kenny simply wants to play, and he knows he doesn’t have many years left in his career. He doesn’t want to see them out sitting on the bench, and that’s completely understandable.”
Going forward, Miller hasn’t featured for Rangers since 2011 & he isn’t getting any younger. He has been deployed at forward, on the wing & in the midfield this season for the Whitecaps. If there were bright spots this season, where was he performing best?
According to Szekeres, “Given his speed, Kenny enjoyed playing up top when the ‘Caps went into a formation with a lone striker up top. The ‘Caps tended to use him at the top of an attacking triangle in his first while here, until Darren Mattocks started to emerge, and Camilo took his game to the next level. Then of course, Kekuta Manneh jumped into the mix. He’s still got plenty of finish, one of the better Whitecaps at actually doing that.”
What happened to Miller in Vancouver happens to many aging players — they are simply phased out by younger, fresher legs. It doesn’t really seem like he played woefully – he just couldn’t keep up with the competition from within the squad & actually his veteran presence was a benefit to the younger players. Szekeres explained, “I think Miller was a good influence on Darren Mattocks, the young Jamaican foward who is having a nice, feel-good comeback campaign after a pretty rocky 2013.”
So what now? Is it simply a matter of time for the Rangers reunion tour to begin as Ally McCoist locks up Miller & Kris Boyd for the upcoming campaign? It sure feels that way & the sense is that supporters feel good about the possibilities. In our poll, 66% of readers felt that Rangers should sign Miller. The short term benefits are obvious…Miller still has the explosive speed that sets him apart & it is likely he still has some timely goals left in him.
Even as his play slipped in Vancouver, the sense is that if he was a victim of his salary more then his input as a player.
Berrisford said, “He could certainly have still done a job for the Whitecaps, but his salary didn’t justify keeping him here just for that.”
Given the qualities Miller brings to a team, he clearly would have a positive impact – in the short term.
The conflicting view really is at what cost do you rely on nostalgia to lead Rangers in the Championship?
The obvious cost is the first team development of Nicky Clark & Callum Gallagher. The jury is still out on Clark but there will be no way to tell if he could succeed at Ibrox if he’s slotted behind Jon Daly, Boyd, & Miller.
Gallagher shined in his few appearances at the end of the year but was left out of the first team lineup so a U20s league could be won.
So, the question will become – what’s most important? Success in 2014-15 or success 3-4 years down the road when players like the aforementioned Daly, Miller & Boyd will have either retired or will be embarking on the Nacho Novo tour of prolonging the inevitable slow crawl to a career’s end.
For further reading, check out Jorge Mendoza’s article for Eighty-Six Forever.