Kenny Miller on the Old Firm derby, talking to Jose Mourinho, the Premier League title race plus Mikel Arteta
Few players know what is involved in an Old Firm derby more than Kenny Miller, who starred for both Rangers and Celtic during a long playing career.
Ahead of this weekend’s showdown at Ibrox, Miller spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes about the match as well as a wide range of footballing issues.
Old Firm can make or break a player
I was fortunate enough to get a decent goal return in the Old Firm because it can make or break a player. That fixture brought the best out of me. I loved the occasion, I relished the challenge.
You need to love that fixture; it has to be the first fixture you look for when they get released at the start of the season. You need to thrive on it because there’s so much pressure going into it. There’s an incredible amount of fan expectation.
If you go under when things are going against your team in that fixture, fans will turn against you, make no mistake about it. And they’re a tough crowd to win over. If I’d never have scored the goals I did in the Old Firm, and I’d have missed chance after chance, I’d never be forgiven. I could score goals in every other game in the season and fans would say “yeah but you missed a sitter against Celtic which cost us the league”.
These games can have a big, big say on which way the title goes. There aren’t many seasons where the league is a landslide, so the games always have extra meaning.
Sunday’s game will be at Ibrox in front of 50,000 supporters, with no away fans. You might think that’s a blessing, that you’re not going to get stick from the away fans. But let me tell you something: if you go a goal or two down in that game as the home side, you might as well have away fans in that stadium, because the home supporters will be up in arms.
I cannot wait for Sunday; the atmosphere will be electric. It’ll be a proper game of football.
I just don’t think Rangers have got the same edge to them at the moment
Rangers smelled blood last season and they went for the jugular. Celtic fans were absolutely obsessed with getting 10 titles in a row, so the pressure that Steven Gerrard and his team were under throughout the season makes it all the more impressive. That, coupled with the fact that Celtic were going through a bit of a turnaround, explains why the gap last season was so astronomical.
It’s a tough start to the season for both clubs because of the European games coming thick and fast, but that’s the nature of the beast at this level. If you’re striving for European football, you’ve got to get on with it.
Neither side can afford to lose this game at Ibrox this weekend, because it’ll mean they’ll have lost two of their opening four fixtures this season. That’s a disastrous start for either club. Throw in the fact that they’ve both been knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers already, coupled with defeat this Sunday, and you’d have to say it’s a horrendous start for whichever club it happens to.
It’s early days, but this is the psychology in Glasgow. If you’re Celtic or Rangers and you’ve lost two of your first four games, then the reality is you’re going to be playing catch-up with the other side. It’s a huge, huge game, not least because the team that wins the league this year gets an automatic Champions League spot, so this really is massive. The financial gain that comes with that in Scotland is huge. What an incentive to win the title; you can swap all of this qualification process for an automatic group spot.
Celtic seem to be a bit more in their stride, scoring a lot of goals, and the new manager looks like he’s putting his stamp on things. I’ve watched every Rangers game so far this season and they are not at their scintillating best. They were 2-0 up and cruising against Ross County last weekend, but they conceded just before half-time and all of a sudden things changed. They scored another, but then conceded before pulling away again late on. I just don’t think they’ve got the same edge to them at the moment – either offensively or defensively.
It’s not that the wheels have fallen off, but after doing so well and putting so much into going unbeaten all of last season, it is interesting that they’ve already lost one game this time out, sandwiched between defeats in Europe. That’s not something we’re used to seeing from Steven Gerrard’s side these days; three defeats in a row.
I just don’t think Rangers are at the top of their game at the moment, but what I will say about them this weekend is that I’d imagine every single player in their starting line-up will have played in at least one game against Celtic, whereas there are probably going to be four or five starters for Celtic who are yet to experience this fixture. That’s massive.
The one thing about Gerrard’s team at Ibrox is that they start fast. They put the opposition under pressure right from the off, and that will almost definitely be the case this weekend as well, in front of the fans. If they can do that on Sunday, I’ll be interested to see how the Celtic players deal with that.
I’m expecting Rangers to start fast, but Celtic are playing really well at the moment. It’s a hard one to call; obviously I know what I want the result to be. Am I completely confident it will be that? I’d say no. But I think it’ll be a wonderful game because they’re two really good teams.
Rangers have been playing together for a good couple of years now. There’s a solidity in that squad which Celtic don’t quite have yet because of all the new arrivals. Celtic are actually in a position now that Rangers were in two years ago. This was Rangers’ problem; recruitment every year meant there was no solidity, but they’re stable now and they’ve tasted success.
Here’s how I won back fans after moving between Old Firm clubs
I know it doesn’t go down well with some people, but it never really affected me too much that I played for both teams in Glasgow. I’ve always just had the belief – and it might be stupid – that if I gave everything for a team, that would see me through and I’d win people over. I’ve not always had good spells with every club I played for, but I always gave everything for the jersey I was wearing.
I had no problem going to Celtic. It was a difficult decision, of course, but the tougher one was going back to Rangers. When I signed for Celtic, it was an opportunity for me to go and play in the Champions League. I wanted to win something, and they gave me that opportunity. I’d been promoted with Wolves but I hadn’t won anything, so that’s why I joined Celtic.
The tough one was going back to Rangers a second time. There were a lot of people out there who didn’t agree with the move, because I’d played for Celtic. But, again, I had the same belief – turn up and give my everything for the club; make my spell there a successful one and I’d win fans over. The thing that made it easy for me was that Walter Smith was the manager and Super Ally was the assistant. If I had the approval of those two – two Rangers legends – then surely the fans would get behind it.
A big part of winning supporters back over came in my first Old Firm game back at the club, away at Celtic. August 31st, 2008, we win 4-2 and I score two. Straight away, I’d like to think I was back in with the family, if you like. I couldn’t have done much more for the fans than that in my first Old Firm game for the club since my return.
Gerrard leaving is a situation Rangers will have prepared for
There’s no doubt that Steven Gerrard will leave the club for a different challenge at some point. Supporters will be hoping that’s in four or five years from now, rather than, say, next season.
Knowing the kind of person he is, he’ll want to test himself in the Premier League. The job he’s done up to this point in management has been outstanding. It’s up to the club to be prepared for his exit, and I’m sure they’re already working on that succession plan behind the scenes, just in case Stevie does leave all of a sudden.
He’s built a fantastic team, and I think a lot of it is to do with the status he’s got in the game; he’s a world-class player and a fantastic manager. He’s probably drawn players to the football club that might not have necessarily joined were he not in charge. He’s got that pull; he’s Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard leaving is a situation Rangers will have already prepared for, I’d imagine, because it feels inevitable that it’ll come. Hopefully it’s later, rather than sooner.
Jose Mourinho told me how he got the best out of players he ‘didn’t get on with’
I’ll be glad to get the UEFA Pro License course finished; it’s been fantastic to be a part of but there have been some late nights over the last 12 months or so, with me being based in Australia. With the time difference, there have been a couple of times I’ve been up working all through the night and straight into training the next day – so it’s been tough.
There are some great guys on the course as well, from completely different backgrounds, and some of the talent we’ve had drop in for Q&As has been phenomenal, too.
Jose Mourinho was obviously one of the standout names who came on to speak with us. I was actually buzzing off the back of that one because we all submitted questions beforehand and mine got picked so I got to speak to him.
When it came to me, one of the lads from the SFA said: “Right, Kenny, your question next.” Before I could say anything, Jose jumps in and goes “ahh, Kenny Miller. You’re the one that never gave defenders a moment’s peace! You’re an absolute pest.” I’m just sat there like ‘wow, Jose Mourinho knows who I am; he must’ve seen me play at some point’. I was so proud.
I asked him what kind of problems he felt have arisen in modern-day football which perhaps weren’t an issue when he first started out in coaching. He gave an answer that everyone probably already knew, which was dealing with people and figuring out how to get the best out of people. He said there are always certain players that you don’t get on with and who don’t get on with you, but you still need to work with them and get the best out of them. It was a brilliant insight into the mind of a top, top manager.
I had to jump in with another question because I just wanted to hear more from him. He’s got such an incredible mind; he’s the kind of person you could sit and speak all night with. It was a real pleasure to talk to him.
I wish Ally McCoist was given more time as Rangers boss; it was a dream come true for me to just meet him
Ally McCoist has always been one of my heroes. He signed me back at Rangers in 2014 but it never quite went according to plan. It was incredible to spend so many years working alongside him – he’s such a great character.
Ally is as genuine as they come; what you see is what you get. If Ally changed his personality just because he was manager of a football club, it wouldn’t be him. Managers have to be true to themselves, and Ally has to be Ally, whether that’s as a football manager, a commentator or on the radio. He’s a really likeable guy; he’s great to be around. Because of his personality, his players want to put that little bit more in for him.
I felt for Ally because the club was really going through a terrible time off the field while he was in charge. He was dealing with so much stuff off the field, putting out fires left, right and centre. Because of his legendary status, he was probably the guy that was actually keeping things together. There was so much going on off the pitch; it would’ve been nice to have seen him have a smooth run of games with nothing going on behind the scenes. I’d have liked to have seen him have a real crack as manager of the club.
It was amazing to work with him for as long as I did, across a number of roles. It was a dream come true for me just getting to meet him. But to then work with him and become friendly, it was great. Me and Allan McGregor would always play card games on away trips with Ally and the physio. Me and Allan always used to beat them, but he’d never tell you that. He hated losing, but what a guy he was. It was a shame how things ended with him.
He knows everything about every sport as well; not just football. He must not watch anything apart from sport – whether it’s cricket, darts, golf, rugby, horse racing, football – it’s everything. He’s super, super knowledgeable. You could ask him to play a game of anything, and he’ll give it a go. Table tennis was another one, he was always up for any sport, and he’d always give you a game.
Manchester United need to win the league every season; look at their team, look at the players they’ve got…
It’s a really intriguing title race in the Premier League this season, because you’ve got Liverpool who’ll definitely think they can win it, Man City will of course fancy their chances as well. I think Chelsea look really strong, so they’ll be right up there, and then you’ve got Man United who always have to win it. They need to win the league every season, and they’ve just not been good enough in recent years. They were a little bit closer last season, although City were still streets ahead by the end of the campaign.
There’s a big gap that needs closing if you’re Manchester United this season. Look at their team, look at the money they’ve spent. They should be challenging. For me, it’s a four-horse race for the league this season.
Could Arsenal’s game v Brentford have been cancelled? Maybe, and maybe we wouldn’t be sat here talking about things being so bad for them right now…
If teams aren’t performing to the level that players expect, then there’s no doubt about it that key players will start thinking about moving on. Players have got a big say in things these days. I look at Arsenal this season and they have been unlucky in that they’ve had to kick things off with a few big players still out injured or ill. But one thing I do know, is I’m looking at their starting line-ups at the moment and thinking ‘wow, why are they so young?’
The club is in that turnaround period at the moment, and there’s no doubting that Mikel Arteta is a good coach. He’s worked with one of the best in the business, and let’s not forget, Pep Guardiola wanted to bring Mikel in. I don’t think he’d have done that if he wasn’t sure Mikel would bring something to the table.
The thing about management and coaching is that you need time, and there’s no getting away from that. It’s every manager’s war cry. You need time to build your team, put your stamp on things and implement your ideas. Sometimes things can go against you that can be out of your control, things like injuries. You know, could that opening game against Brentford have been postponed and played at a later date? Maybe, and then maybe we wouldn’t be talking about things being so bad for them right now.
Arsenal will have been aware that they were appointing a young, inexperienced manager, so I’m sure they’ll back him and give him the time to get it right, because it’s a very young squad. They’ve just brought in Martin Odegaard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if another one or two came in before the deadline, just to pad things out a bit.
Arsenal will struggle to make the top seven this season. If you look at the top four, then aside from those you’ve got Tottenham, who are stronger, then you’ve got Leicester who will definitely be in the top six. Then West Ham have been flying under David Moyes, so they’ll be up there, as will Everton under Rafa Benitez.
There are so many huge, huge clubs up there, and then you look at Arsenal – compared to the strength and depth of their rivals – and just think there are so many other sides far more equipped to finish above them. A good season for Arsenal is European football of any kind.
You need to find a balance throughout your team nowadays; having that emphasis on youth is great, and it makes sense because you’re developing players that haven’t cost you a penny, and then you’re selling them on for a profit. But in the meantime, while they’re playing for you, you need those senior players around the place, leading the way and setting the example.
The older guys need to show the youngsters what it takes to be at the top. I look at my own career, in particular when I went to Wolves, Paul Ince and Denis Irwin came to the club – they’d won everything in the game. It’s no surprise that we got promoted the year they came in.
In our group, the younger players were myself, Lee Naylor, Joleon Lescott, Keith Andrews and Adam Proudlock. We all went on to have really good careers, but without the guidance of those senior players in the team, that wouldn’t have happened. They helped us develop as players, just as much as the coaches and the management. You need to get that balance in the squad. It’s so important.
I want to be managing a top club in the UK
I definitely see my future back in the UK; there’s no getting away from that. With the greatest of respect to football in Australia, you want to be testing yourself in the elite leagues, whether that’s the Premier League, or somewhere else in Europe.
I’ve always seen myself as a manager. In the last 10 years of my playing career, I was already thinking about my next move, and I always knew it would be in management. It’s why I jumped into it as a player-manager at Livingston. Everybody told me I couldn’t do both, but I could, and I loved it. I loved playing right up until the end of my career.
I love working and preparing my team for each game; that’s one of the biggest things I enjoy; looking at our opponents and working out how we can use our strengths and exploit their weaknesses. You’ve got to be obsessed with that sort of thing, and I am. I said straight away to the lads, we’re going to have our own style, and we’re going to impose it onto other teams.
My first game as a player-manager was against Celtic, away, at Parkhead. We’d just had back-to-back promotions at Livingston, and then I took over in the Premiership. Our first game was Celtic away, and I want to build this possession-based team, building from the back and creating a brand of fast, attacking football. Well, Celtic were the best team in the country at the time, managed by Brendan Rodgers who, in my opinion, is the best British manager around at the moment.
We didn’t change our mindset, but we did have to prepare for a different kind of game than the ones we’d been used to. But I loved it. I can honestly say this; the things we worked on went exactly how we planned. The boys carried out the plan and worked their socks off.
On paper, a 3-1 defeat might not show for much, but we conceded from a counter-attack off one of our corners, a penalty, and a Tom Rogic header, of all things. You can’t prepare for a ball landing on Tom Rogic’s head and flying into the top corner.
The biggest problem with coaching nowadays is that the football side of things is the easy part; it’s the other side of the game which is an issue. We’ve played football all our lives; I’m obsessed with the game. But now you need to deal with the character, the person and the human being. Yes, your job is to make players better, but you can also help players learn and grow as people; and that can actually improve their game on the pitch as well.
My job as a coach is to find out what makes you, my player, tick. I’ve got to take an interest. It goes a long way. That interest has to be genuine; it can’t be fake. I can’t ask how you are and then turn my back on you when you reply to me. It sounds so simple but I’ve had managers in the past who are like that, and it’s not good for the player.