It looks like those Kenny Miller to Rangers rumours just got a whole lot of fuel thrown into the fire.
Before the body of Vancouver’s 2012 season was even cold, Whitecaps Designated Player Kenny Miller was rumoured to be heading back across the Atlantic. Major League Soccer had not been kind to him that year. He appeared on the pitch for a total of 748 minutes, out of a possible 1350, or just over half. In that time, he managed two goals, which was not exactly a blistering pace. If you stretched that out over the entire MLS campaign, including CSA and MLS Cup matches, he was on pace to score 5.
He took his cue from Barry Robson, who had arrived in Vancouver two months prior, and formed a strong friendship with Andy O’Brien. The three of them would regularly arrive at practice together, and back each other up when disputes arose.
Even before the preliminary round of the MLS Cup, he was linked by The Telegraph to a loan deal to Scottish Premiership side Hibernian. However, the player himself poured some cold water on it by saying that "Hibs are top of the league, they don’t need me now. After this game I’ll have a wee think about what I’m going to do."
In December, his agent had lined up a loan to move to Scottish Premiership side St. Mirren, but the Whitecaps vetoed this move. Having played 4,918 minutes of football over the European 2011-12 season and second half of the 2012 MLS campaign, it’s not hard to wonder why. They preferred that he train only.
A month later, he was doing just that with then Scottish Division Three side Rangers, a club he had two previous spells with between 2000-02 and 2008-11.
When asked in January by a Scottish reporter whether he would be open to a return, he said "There is no doubt I would come back", going on to say, "I would definitely do it. It’s whether it could happen." And finally, he added that "Rangers hold a strong place in my heart."
It would have been interesting to read what he said in between those quotes, but that probably didn't fit with the story.
He trained with the full blessing of Vancouver Whitecaps. Indeed, the rumours of a move abroad worked in both directions, as Vancouver were thought to be keen to unload him and Barry Robson.
When Vancouver’s preseason began, Miller returned, but Robson was nowhere to be seen. A few hours later, Vancouver announced that they had terminated his contract by mutual consent.
In April, more stories emerged about Kenny’s possible return to Rangers, only this time it appeared that Rangers owner at that time, Charles Green, was pouring cold water on them by suggesting he only wanted to buy players with a sell-on possibility. At Kenny’s age, that appeared unlikely. Those three quotes by Kenny from January were trotted out again.
In May, Miller’s name appeared on a list of transfer targets of Rangers manager Ally McCoist. This was apparently enough to fuel another round of speculation in the Scottish press.
Vancouver’s number nine said, "I’m contracted with Vancouver until the end of the season. It’s as simple as that. Obviously you can’t control what’s said or written by other parties, but for me, I’ve just been firmly focused on getting back and getting back on the field for Vancouver."
However, his compatriot Kris Boyd, now with Scottish Premiership side Kilmarnock, had a lot to say on the matter. Before we get into those comments, let’s consider the source. In December of 2011, Boyd terminated his contract with Turkish side Eskişehirspor over a payment dispute. He thought he should be paid. How quaint.
He signed as a Designated Player with Portland Timbers in January, took part in their preseason camp, and played his first game in March, almost five months after his last competitive match. All in all, it was a fairly smooth transition, with a lengthy end of season break.
The 2012 campaign started well enough for him, scoring three goals in his first six matches for the Timbers. But it did not end too well. In the last 11 matches he was in the 18, he failed to score, and in three of them, he was an unused substitute.
When asked about Kenny’s situation, Boyd said, "Kenny’s made his decision and he wants to come back home." At the time, Boyd thought that "he’ll do well. Rangers probably need a couple of experienced players to help the youngsters coming through."
"When you’ve played at the level Kenny has,” such as in captaining Vancouver Whitecaps, "and you have as many caps as he has," many of them as captain of Scotland, "he would be an asset."
And if that wasn’t enough, he added this nugget of insight, "I’m sure he’s now thinking he wants to help the Rangers kids mature into the kind of player Kenny has turned into. He’ll be eager to pass on all of his experience."
Strange, and here we thought that he was already doing that in Vancouver, taking the likes of Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks, Russell Teibert, and of course, Camilo Sanvezzo under his wing. But alas, that kind of talk doesn’t sell papers in Scotland.
When asked about Boyd's comments, Miller played them down and said he'd have to have a word with him about them.
In June, Miller again appeared on Ally McCoist’s transfer target list. But given Rangers financial difficulties, I imagine the tablet he wrote it on was made of stone.
In July, the Scottish papers reported yet again that Miller was on his way to Rangers. Clearly there were no other important topics on the Scottish game that they could write about. This time they incredulously made the claim that he was quite willing to take a hefty pay cut to play for Rangers. No quotes or sources were given. What is happening to the UK tabloids? They didn't even bother to make one up.
Today, Kenny Miller has put pen to paper on a six-month contract extension, which will keep him with Vancouver until June 2014. Now, obviously the 2014 schedule has not been released, but he should be eligible for around 15-20 matches between MLS and the Voyageurs Cup.
Martin Rennie offered his thoughts on the extension, "This is an important move for our club and speaks to the value we place on continuity as we grow."
Having assumed the captain’s armband in Jay DeMerit’s absence, it is not surprising that Rennie would say that "Kenny is a great leader and his contributions both on and off the pitch have been instrumental to the success of our team. It's an exciting time for the club and we look forward to a strong finish to the 2013 campaign."
"I’m delighted to sign a contract extension with the Whitecaps," said Miller. "I’ve really enjoyed my time in Vancouver and so has my family. The fans here are unbelievable, the club is always very professional, and I think we have a special group of players."
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what this really means. This deal is all about flexibility. Shortly after the MLS Cup Final on December 7th or 8th, when the Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the Montreal Impact in a re-match of the... okay, I made that last part up.
But shortly after the MLS season officially ends, Kenny Miller will be free to sign a pre-contract. This is what happened in 2013 when we signed Barry Robson while he was still under contract to Middlesbrough.
By limiting the extension until June, it will give the Kenny the chance to sign with a European club during their off season, and Vancouver will have the chance to sign a replacement in the July transfer window.
Let’s call a spade a spade here. By then, he’ll be 34-year old striker, halfway to 35, and who knows how his body will hold up. One only has to look at the change in Lee Young-Pyo’s form from last season to this to see how cruel time can be on a professional athlete.
And if you’re one of those people who have been enjoying all the speculation about a possible return to Rangers, you’re in luck. This deal is the surest sign yet that Miller intends to return to his old stomping ground.
Currently, Rangers are under a transfer embargo that runs until September 1st, 2013. It’s no great leap of faith to suggest that come December, Miller will sign a pre-contract with Rangers, pay Vancouver a transfer fee, or risk him getting hurt in the first half of the 2014 MLS campaign. By then, they’ll hope to have been promoted to the Scottish Championship.
He’d join them after a proper off season for their fight to win promotion to the Scottish Premiership.
In case you were wondering, earlier today the newly formed Scottish Professional Football League voted to rename the four divisions to Scottish Premiership, Scottish Championship, Scottish League One, and Scottish League Two.
Of course, Miller could re-sign with Vancouver, either another six month extension for the balance of the 2014 season, or beyond. That’s why this deal is so good for Vancouver. It keeps an asset that’s been doing so well on the books, but they aren’t tied to it long term in case things go awry.
We always knew Miller’s time in Vancouver would be short. We didn’t get him until he was already in his early thirties, but if nothing else, this will allow him to focus on the 2013 campaign, and the distraction of a pre-contract won’t emerge until after the season ends.
What will the Scottish press fill their column inches with now?