Millar contemplates life after the final whistle
Chris Millar was the golden boy once but, as he enters the latter stages of his professional career, he is becoming more like the olden boy.
At the age of 33, the St Johnstone midfielder is no longer a man in a hurry, content to play a waiting game and win back his place in the Saints’ first team.
The man nicknamed ‘Midge’, is undoubtedly one of the most colourful and passionate figures in Scottish football.
In a career spanning 13 years, which began training alongside the likes of Henrik Larsson at Celtic and is now approaching its end, Millar has never been too far away from the headlines.
Whether it was winning St Johnstone their first-ever Scottish Cup in 2014, experiencing European football in the Europa League or contemplating a move to Australia, his career has been eventful.
However off the pitch, the Glasgow-born player is forging as impressive career for himself as a sports journalist.
“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that”
After working for broadcasters including BT Sport, Millar is optimistic about the future and once he decides to hang up his boots.
The former Greenock Morton player is setting his sights high in a career in broadcasting.
“I think there is definitely a realisation that life after football has to be planned for,” admits Millar.
“Not every player earns the money that will keep them ticking for the rest of their days, especially in Scotland.
“Many players are aware of it and are making plans once their career is over, and the PFA are doing a great job in highlighting this issue.”
Despite the criticism that former players get once they land a role in the media, Millar insists that he wants to try and change the views of professional footballers.
“I think at times some players think there is an agenda within the media to sell units,” he says.
“As a former player, I do not have an agenda to push. I just want to report the events as honestly as I can and try to open up the game more to the public.
“My main aim is to show the public about what goes on at football clubs with players, managers, etc.
“I enjoy most aspects of journalism like writing, broadcasting both radio and TV. I have done work in all three and I have held down a slot as a pundit on radio and I work for a national paper.
“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that.”
For many players, their first port after retirement is to become a coach or manager. After initially contemplating this, Millar chose to broaden his horizons – and he says completing a degree at Staffordshire University was one of the best decisions he ever made.
“I have always wanted to stay involved in the game,” he says. “It’s all I have known since I was a 17-year-old at Celtic so it is important for me to stay involved.
“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have”
“When I saw that I could do a sports broadcasting degree whilst still playing, it got me thinking, so it really came from there.
“Many players want to go into coaching so there is only going to be so many jobs going around. I enjoy using my brain and learning new skills so for me it is interesting to use a different skills-set.
“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have.”
Most individuals would struggle to manage their professional and academic lives, but Millar has balanced both and he says even though it was difficult, it was worth it in the end.
“It was tough, don’t get me wrong,” admits the Scot.
“Juggling footy, two kids and a degree takes time and effort. However, in the end it paid off as I gained a first class degree. By using my brain again, I enjoyed learning a whole new skill set.
“The funny thing is that I played some of my best football whilst studying. It gave my mind something else to focus on – it’s good to have a release from that.”
The return of the Old Firm
With the return of Rangers to Scotland’s top division, the competition in the league has gained an intensity that it had been missing in recent years.
Despite the likes of Celtic, Aberdeen and Rangers being touted as the ‘big boys’, Millar’s St Johnstone have continued to progress under manager Tommy Wright, a journey Millar says will continue.
“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and as a club we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress as a team.”
“The return of Rangers has been huge for Scottish football,” he says.
“They bring a bigger spotlight to the league and obviously you have the Old Firm derby back which is a huge game. As a player, you want to play in front of big crowds and I have honestly missed playing at Ibrox.
“We [St Johnstone] have started well but ultimately I do not think we can win the league. However, I do not see any reason to why we cannot challenge for the other top four spots.
“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress.”
Scotland’s World Cup adventure
Looking at the national team, Scotland’s qualification campaign for the Russia 2018 World Cup has not been going well, and in November manager Gordon Strachan faces a huge test – against England, at Wembley.
“Results have not been good enough ultimately,” says Millar.”I compare ourselves to teams of the other home nations and when I look at them, man for man we have as much if not more talent than them yet they have just been to the Euros and we have not. That is not good enough,” he says.
“The last two results in the qualifiers were poor and it means we must now go onto beat England. If we lose that then for me, Strachan must go.”
As Millar points out, Scotland have a number of star players and one of the most highly-regarded is former Nottingham Forest and current RB Leipzig player Oliver Burke.
His goal for Leipzig against FC Koln made the 19-year-old Scotland international the first Scot to score in the Bundesliga since Brian O’Neil for VFL Wolfsburg in November 1999.
“He has all the physical attributes needed in modern football,” insists Millar. “He is athletic, quick and he can score.
“He is still very young and he has a long way to go but I think going to Germany will enhance his learning. More players should try to play abroad as I think it can only enhance your development as a player.”
Not calling it quits yet
Despite his age and planning for the longer term, Millar insists he is not yet done with playing football.
“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone”
“I have an ambition to play as long as I can as I love the game and feel I still have plenty to offer,” says the midfielder.
“I had issues with injuries last season but that is behind me. There is still life in my legs yet and I do not feel that I am off the pace. When I do feel that, then that is the time to stop.
“I am fit now and have been for most of the season so far, so I am ready to play when called upon. I know when I get back in the team, I will play well and then get my chance again.
“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone. I have achieved things that I wanted in my career like playing in Europe, winning trophies and playing at the highest level in Scotland.
“It is a fantastic community-based club with loyal fans who have made me feel like one of them. It will always have a place in my heart.”
Chris Millar is on Twitter @MidgeyMiller