YOUNG Footballers are often told to make the most of their careers, not take their fortunate position for granted and play as long as they can. Football, after all, is a short career where players will be lucky to play beyond fifteen years as a professional before they have to call it a day.
In the case of Liam Miller, it’s not just a football career that should be taken for granted, it’s life!
The Irishman, who shot into the limelight when he emerged through the youth ranks at Celtic, died from pancreatic cancer on Friday at the age of just 36, an age where many continue to play as seasoned veterans of the game.
Many tributes were paid by his former team mates, fans and even from opposition supporters to Miller in the hours after his passing was announced, with a minutes silence taking place at Celtic Park before the Hoops Scottish Cup tie with Partick Thistle.
In all, Miller played for twelve clubs in his career, including two loan spells, covering six countries and three continents, plus earning 21 international caps for his native Republic of Ireland. But his was a career that could’ve achieved so much more but for injuries and a dip in form that he never really recovered from.
He emerged as a player of real promise at Celtic, making his breakthrough in the 2003/04 season under Martin O’Neill. Despite competition from the likes of Stan Petrov, Neil Lennon and Paul Lambert, Miller never looked out of place and proved his worth in big Champions League matches, in particular against Lyon and Anderlecht at Celtic Park when he scored in each fixture, helping his team to two crucial victories.
With his stock rising, Miller was expected to sign a long term contract at the club he’d left Ireland for in 1997. However, he stunned his employers by signing a pre-contract agreement to sign for Manchester United. It was a move that angered a large section of the Celtic support, who were incensed at the fact that he was, seemingly, doing the dirty on a team that had supported him through a largely injury prone spell before he made his mark in the first team. Miller didn’t feature much after his announcement and, when he returned to the fold towards the end of the season, was booed by sections of the Hoops faithful feeling betrayed by his decision to go to Old Trafford.
United were in a period of transition when Miller arrived and he found it difficult to make an impact at Old Trafford, playing just 22 times under Sir Alex Ferguson in a two year period that included a six month loan spell at Leeds. He was allowed to leave in 2006 and joined Sunderland, helping them to promotion to the Premier League in his first season. However, he gradually fell out of favour with Roy Keane and he left to sign a short term deal with QPR til the end of the 2008/09 season, leading to a move back to Scottish Football to join Hibs.
The 2009/10 season arguably saw Liam Miller produce his best form since leaving Celtic. Under John Hughes, he played an integral part in the side that finished fourth and qualified for Europe. Miller’s form also saw him included in the SPL’s team of the year. Unfortunately, Miller didn’t reach the same heights the following season as Hibs form deteriorated, leading to the sacking of Hughes mid-season and the Irishman was allowed to leave Easter Road following a disappointing tenth place finish.
It proved to be the last time Liam Miller played on British shores as his career took him to the Australian A-League, signing for Perth Glory along with the former St Mirren, Ross County and Motherwell striker come Midfielder Steve McGarry. During my four week tour of the country, I took in Glory’s visit to Melbourne Victory in November 2012 and noted that Miller was only a substitute for the visitors whilst McGarry, an average at best player during his time in Scotland, started in a central midfield role. For me, it summed up the decline of Miller, a player who had so much promise had now faded into football obscurity.
His time down under wasn’t a complete disaster and he moved onto Brisbane Roar, where he played a key role for the club as they beat Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014 A-League Grand Final. He swapped Brisbane for Melbourne City on a short term deal before winding down his career with spells at hometown club Cork City and in America with Wilmington Hammerheads.
He hung up his boots in 2016 and stayed in America to take up a coaching role with Real Monarchs from Utah, a role he would remain until November last year when he was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. He had treatment in America then returned to spend the remaining few months of his life in his native Ireland.
The death of Liam Miller should teach many budding young footballers to make the most of their careers and not get complacent in their surroundings. The fact that Miller’s career saw him wind down in the third tier of America, having began with a meteoric rise into the Celtic first team and earn a move to Manchester United, is a sad indictment of a player who could’ve made more use of his opportunities, though his was also a career plagued by injury. That being said, he still achieved more in his sixteen year career than most of his peers and could still gloat about the fact that he did manage to play for two of Britain’s biggest and most successful clubs.
His passing also is a message to everyone to make most of their time on earth whilst they still can and not assume that they will live forever. 36 is a very young age for someone to lose their life and Miller leaves behind a wife to bring up three young children on her own, with the kids having to come to terms of growing up without their father.