MICKEL Miller is grinning and grimacing at the same time. I can sense it.
He knew he faced a baptism of fire by agreeing to join Rotherham United just as manager Paul Warne’s notoriously-gruelling pre-season regime was about to start and he hasn’t been disappointed.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough week,” he smiles through the phone. “I’ve been told about the toughness and I’m prepped in my mind. The legs are a bit tired. I need a nice bath and a bit of stretching!”
Miller has arrived at ASSEAL New York Stadium on a mission. After, two and a half years in the Scottish Premiership with Hamilton Academical the Croydon kid wants to make his mark in the English game.
He headed to Scotland as a boy and left as a wanted man. The Millers, fresh from their promotion to the Championship, faced plenty of competition before winning the battle for the 24-year-old’s services.
“I was in discussions with a few English clubs and a couple of Scottish clubs,” he reveals. “It’s always been my ambition to play in the Football League, 100 per cent.
“Scotland was a good stepping stone for me but I always had my eye on coming back down to England, wherever it was to. I want to see if I can do the same thing in England.”
The left-footer, who excelled on both wings at New Douglas Park, had just been sent off in what turned out to be his final Hamilton appearance when the Millers made their move.
“It came about quite suddenly, to be honest,” he says. “I didn’t know Rotherham were interested in me until about a week into lockdown.
“My agent got in contact with me and said that they liked me and wanted to have a Zoom call.”
Not for the first time, manager Paul Warne’s personality and attention to detail helped to point a potential new recruit in the direction of South Yorkshire.
“I ended up having a Zoom call with the gaffer and a few of the staff,” Miller says. “They were telling me a bit about the club and how they think I would fit their style.”
The player is laughing now as he adds: ‘Yeah, the Gaffer made a good impression on me. I enjoyed the call. I took in what they were saying and liked what I heard.”
Having been a prolific non-league scorer close to his Croydon home, he was prepared to take himself 420-plus miles and a near-seven-hour drive out of his comfort zone to press the accelerator on his progress.
“Hamilton was a long way from home,” he says. “It had its days where it sunk in just how far away I was. But it made me the person I am today. That kind of move makes you grow up quickly, 100 per cent.”
Aye, Miller might have been in a different country since January 2018, yet there’s no hint of anything north of the border in his accent. He’s well spoken — not posh but pleasantly rounded — and there’s a natural friendliness about him. He says ‘100 per cent’ a lot.
Isthmian Premier League side Carshalton Athletic benefited from his talent for five years in the seventh tier of the English pyramid where he performed so well he was picked up by Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy’s V9 Academy and had a trial with Sheffield Wednesday before Hamilton came calling.
He is grounded and driven; determined to get the most out of himself. Remind you of a certain Millers boss?
“The Gaffer was explaining how much he loves playing with wide men in the Zoom call, him and Ham (coach Matt Hamshaw),” he says. “I didn’t know he came from non-league himself. I can relate to his story.”
I ask him what he has in his locker and he responds. “Trickery, and I’m fast. I’m also hard-working.”
So two extra bonuses on top of the manager’s one great strength back in his own workaholic playing days!
YouTube footage of Miller in Scotland shows him equally comfortable taking on opponents on the outside on the left flank or cutting inside from the right.
Now comes the test of doing it at New York where he won’t be the first player to benefit from moving south.
Midfielder Will Vaulks, now eyeing Premier League football with Cardiff City, centre-half Clark Robertson and midfield man Jamie Lindsay have all made similar journeys.
“The Gaffer told me there were a few players who had come down here and done well,” Miller says. “I know Will Vaulks came here and has moved on and is having a successful career. That is good to know.
“I like the sound of what the Gaffer is all about — hard work and stuff like that. That relates to myself.
“My philosophy is that you work hard and you get places. I’m still going to work hard and see how far I can really go.
“My ambition is to secure a spot in the team and keep us up. I’m looking for a first-team spot, 100 per cent.”
His last game in Scotland, on March 7, saw him sent off for two yellow cards after coming on in a 1-0 triumph over a Kilmarnock side that included former Millers centre-half Kirk Broadfoot.
Before then, though, there had been 12 goals in 67 appearances and a famous win over mighty Glasgow Rangers at Ibrox.
As we speak last week, he’s still finding his feet in new surroundings as coronavirus restrictions at the training ground mean it is taking him a while to be introduced to all of his teammates.
“I haven’t met everyone because we can’t be in big groups,” he says. “The ones I’ve met are all good lads and have made me feel welcome. We train in small groups and the groups change regularly.”
He’s staying with family in Leeds while seeking a place closer to Rotherham.
Rotherham took wide man Chiedozie Ogbene, from relative obscurity last season and Warne is hoping to repeat the process with his first signing of the summer.
The boss says: “Mickel’s an old-fashioned winger in that he likes to go down the outside and get crosses in. Obviously, I like that!
“Of all the wingers we’ve watched, his attention to the out-of-possession stuff is about the best.
“He has a goal threat and puts a decent ball in. The way we play, that suits us no end.”
Miller himself acknowledges: “Coming to the Championship is a big step up, but I’m the kind of person who thrives on trying to get better and proving himself.
“Leaving Scotland to come to Rotherham is a huge, huge challenge. I enjoy challenges. That’s one of the main reasons I chose to come here. I can’t wait.”
A player in his new manager’s own mould. There’s one thing you can guarantee he will give in the Millers’ cause.
One-hundred per cent.
HAMILTON Academical fan Ben McNicol watched every one of Rotherham United new boy Mickel Miller’s 68 matches in Scotland. Here, he gives the Advertiser his verdict on the winger who earlier this month became the Millers’ first signing of the summer.
MICKEL Miller played an integral role in helping Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Academical defy the odds and avoid relegation for the last two years after joining the club from Isthmian Premier League side Carshalton Athletic in the seventh tier of English football.
The rise of Miller, who scored 12 goals, over the last couple of seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s an exciting, energetic, and enigmatic player who can play on either wing as well as through the middle as a striker.
The 24-year-old is full of pace and has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He loves to fly up and down the flanks and regularly cuts inside on to his preferred left foot. He isn’t afraid to shoot from distance, scoring three stunners during his time at New Douglas Park.
He is also a very creative player, managing eight assists. Should he decide to cut inside, he will look to play a deadly through-ball to the striker, leaving the full-backs trailing in his wake.
The Englishman is a hard worker and will come back to support the full-back he is playing with. He’s had eight yellow cards and two red cards, which is quite a lot for an attacking player. He won’t shirk a challenge.
Nobody is perfect and Miller is no different. One of his few faults during his time with Hamilton was his inconsistency.
It was inevitable that he was going to move on this summer. He was a man in demand on numerous occasions. Last summer he was linked with Scunthorpe United, AFC Wimbledon and Northampton Town.
In January, Scottish Premiership side Hibernian had a bid rejected for the attacker and it was rumoured that he remained high on boss Jack Ross’s wish-list this summer, so Rotherham definitely would have had some competition for his services.
He is an exciting addition to the Millers. It’s a new challenge that Miller will relish and it goes without saying that everyone associated with Hamilton wishes him nothing but success.