Successful loan proves Celtic starlet has a future

He's been turning heads at Dundee
Blair Newman  |  2nd October 2018

Calvin Miller left Celtic for a loan spell with Dundee on summer transfer window deadline day, the aim being to earn regular game time and prove himself worthy of more opportunities when returning to his parent club. So far, he looks set to achieve his aim.

Our friends at Football Whispers look at the youngster’s impressive rise.

The 20-year-old found himself shunted down the pecking order at Parkhead following the re-signing of the experienced Emilio Izaguirre on 10 August. With the Honduran brought in to act as back-up to first-choice left-back Kieran Tierney, there was little room for Miller in the squad.

However, the youngster has already shown real quality while on loan at Dundee, and he recently helped Neil McCann’s side to their first victory of the campaign: a 2-0 away win over Hamilton Academical. Assuming Brendan Rodgers is keeping tabs on the player’s progress, he may rethink sending him away again in future.

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A graduate of the Celtic youth academy, Miller has been an understudy to Tierney for two years. Starting out as a forward, he was moved to left-back by Rodgers, who praised him after his debut against Partick Thistle in December 2016.

“I was delighted for a young player who has just moved position,” Rodgers said. “I thought he did very well and he wants to learn and develop. He needs time to learn that position and role but he’s got some outstanding qualities and can offer the club something going forward.”

Unfortunately for Miller, he wasn’t given much of a chance to build on that debut performance over the following two years, with the exceptional Tierney regaining his position. That, along with the return of Izaguirre, encouraged him to move away temporarily.

“I need to take my career by the scruff of the neck and go and get game time and prove I am a player. I can’t just wait about,” he said after joining Dundee. “I’ve come here to play games, to show that I am ready if I am needed back if Kieran (Tierney) goes away. That’s my objective, so I need to be ready.”

Successful loan spells are a viable route back into Celtic’s first team. Several members of Rodgers’ current squad spent time out on loan before returning to establish themselves, including centre-back Kristoffer Ajer and midfield playmaker Callum McGregor. Miller could soon follow in their footsteps.

Perhaps the most prominent skill the left-back has shown at Dundee thus far has been his delivery from set pieces. In four appearances he already has two assists to his name, both of which came from dead ball situations. His first was a curled corner kick; his second an in-swinging crossed free kick from the right-hand side.

While valuable, that trait alone won’t be enough to impress and win a more important squad berth back at Celtic. However, Miller has also showcased some of the individual qualities Rodgers looks for in his wide players, such as dribbling and crossing. This is evidenced by the statistics.

Only six Scottish Premiership players are averaging more than his 8.8 dribbles per 90 minutes. Notably, all six are attacking midfielders, wingers or forwards, and they are also highly thought of within the domestic game. As well as Celtic’s James Forrest and Tom Rogic, this list includes renowned 1v1 specialists such as Kilmarnock’s Jordan Jones, Hibernian’s Martin Boyle and Aberdeen’s Gary Mackay-Steven.

Another relevant statistic from Miller’s first four Dundee games regards the amount of crosses he is putting in. So far he is averaging 5.87 per 90 minutes, a tally bested by just two players – Rangers left-back Borna Barisic and versatile Motherwell wide man Elliot Frear.

These numbers aren’t just about the player’s qualities; they also highlight the style of play McCann has implemented at Dens Park. Only Celtic, Rangers and Hibernian average more possession than Dundee, highlighting their commitment to building from the back and passing through the thirds. They are unlike most other struggling Scottish Premiership teams in this respect.

In this sense, Miller couldn’t have chosen a better loan destination. He is now playing as an extremely attack-minded left-back in a system without wingers that focuses on ball retention and progression. All of these aspects will provide him with a tactical schooling that can only help him if and when he returns to Celtic.

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And if he can prove himself as an attacking left-back, he could have a better chance at regular football with his parent club as a left wing-back in their asymmetric formation. This term, Rodgers has asked Tierney to provide width on the left while right-back Mikael Lustig has generally stayed deeper. Consequently, their 4-2-3-1 quickly becomes a 3-2-4-1 when attacking.

Miller would suit the left-sided role within this shape, and this role could become available if Tierney were to be moved to the left of a back three. The 21-year-old has performed well in this position for Scotland, and Celtic are in desperate need of a left-sided central defender to aid in build-up situations.

The summer transfer window was an underwhelming one for the reigning Scottish champions. Several key players moved on, and as yet it appears they have not been adequately replaced. But perhaps the larger problem is the increasing focus on bringing in talent from outside the club.

Celtic have an outstanding youth system. Tierney, Forrest and McGregor are three good examples of the individual talent this system can produce. With every passing week, Miller is showing he can join the trio and make a name for himself at Parkhead. He just needs to be given the chance.

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