Kenny Miller has just rejoined Rangers, causing more than one eyebrow to be raised in Glasgow, reports Douglas Beattie
A funny thing happened to Walter Smith during the white-knuckle run-in to last season’s Scottish Premier League. A desperate 1-1 draw at Motherwell had just put the title back in Celtic’s hands and yet immediately afterwards the Rangers manager was being asked on television about rumours that Scotland striker Kenny Miller was a summer transfer target. Smith bristled before tersely dismissing the question.
The future of a Derby County striker may have seemed an odd topic with Rangers almost at the denouement of a season that would see them take both domestic cups but be pipped to the UEFA Cup and league championship. It had become an open secret in Glasgow that Miller was being lined up for a return to Ibrox. Cue outrage among the Rangers support, which culminated in chanting against their prospective striker during the Scottish Cup final win. So why all the fuss?
In the eyes of the scotish media, Rangers fans were simply reacting to the fact that Miller had a short, and relatively undistinguished, spell with Celtic – he scored only seven goals in 33 SPL games – before his days at Derby. That would normally be enough to infuriate plenty of Ibrox die-hards, but there’s more to this than immediately meets the eye.
Miller had been a Gers player first – scoring eight goals in 30 games as a youngster in 2000-01 – before being shunted off to Wolves, where he gained a reputation as an energetic if hardly prolific forward. This has not gone unnoticed among the Rangers support. As one season-ticket holder told me: “There’s nothing to his game, you just wind him up and off he goes. I mean he can go, but still.”
Frankly, if Miller was returning as a former Celt with a world-class reputation, the chances are he would be made welcome by the majority. They just don’t believe that’s what they are getting; quite reasonably they are asking why a footballer so recently dumped by their arch-rivals should be able to find a berth at their club. Still, though, that’s not the full story. The maelstrom has been provoked by Miller’s enthusiastic badge-kissing celebrations while with Celtic. The player, for his part, has categorically denied ever puckering up to the four-leaf clover, claiming only ever to have thumped his fist off his chest in tribute to his young son.
Undeterred by the chorus of dissent, the Rangers management pressed ahead and the £2 million transfer was completed in June. Now that he is 28, they feel they are getting a greatly more rounded and mature player than the one who left the club in 2001. That’s yet to be proven.
Miller failed to score on his “second debut” for the club, in a low-key pre-season friendly in Germany, and was repeatedly booed by the travelling support. Yet amid all this he has remained pretty steadfast, describing as a “no-brainer” the decision to become the first man in nigh-on a century to make the switch between the Old Firm clubs before going back again. By my reckoning he is the first since Scott Duncan, a soldier on Rangers’ books who played twice for Celtic during the First World War before crossing the city again to make his name.
Many players who know the Old Firm well would have turned down the transfer, feeling it was hardly worth the hassle. Not Miller, who has a raft of reasons for deciding to come back to the place he says he “is supposed to be”. With a World Cup qualifying campaign about to begin, it is perhaps understandable that Scotland’s main striker was reluctant to play Championship football and was keen to resume a working relationship with the man who was his boss when he scored seven times in 12 appearances for the national team.
Also, Miller left Celtic in acrimonious circumstances, alleging that the club’s chief executive, Peter Lawwell, had “said things, perhaps to scare me into moving, which didn’t have to be said. Some of them were quite insulting.” Rangers, clearly, have signed someone with a point to prove.
While the transfer remains unusual in the context of the great Glasgow rivalry, these are relatively enlightened times. Celtic currently have two ex-Rangers on their books in Barry Robson and Mark Brown, while midfielder and life-long supporter Paul Hartley admitted he had been prepared to move to Rangers from Hearts in early 2007 before Celtic came in for him. Newspapers have recently linked former Parkhead winger Shaun Maloney with a move to Rangers from Aston Villa.
Miller’s chances of weathering the coming storm are relatively high, given that he dealt admirably with similar pressures while at Parkhead. Also, he is an Edinburgh lad and that is where he will live, far from the religious tensions of the west coast. However, he will need no reminding that goals, and plenty of them, will be required. Indeed, scoring the winner in an Old Firm derby is a remedy for everything; the story of this sinner may yet become that of prodigal son.
From WSC 259 September 2008