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Page last updated at 19:08 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Miller time in Japan

By David McDaid

JEF United coach Alex Miller
Miller has won his battle to keep JEF United in the J-League

"I might need a fork," says Alex Miller as he contemplates his suki-yaki. The chopsticks present a challenge, but they're nothing compared to the job he's taken on.

In May, the Scot left the luxury of the English Premier League's elite, for the basement of the J-League.

Perhaps the 59-year-old hasn't quite done it all in football, but he's done a lot more than most.

He won silverware as a player with Rangers, and as a manager with Hibernian.

He was Craig Brown's assistant with the Scotland national team, and was an integral part of Liverpool's backroom staff on their way to the Champions League triumph in 2005.

So, it surprised many when the Reds coach upped sticks for JEF United in Japan, especially since he was taking the reins of a team staring at relegation.

During predecessor Josip Kuze's 11-match tenure, the club sold many of its top players, and scraped together only two points.

Most managers would have stayed well clear of such a job, so what was the appeal for Miller?

My goal here is to escape relegation, but it's been like running a 200m race with everyone else having a 50m head start

Alex Miller

"This was a chance to be a manager again, and an opportunity to work abroad," he says between mouthfuls of rice.

"That's something I wanted to try before I eventually quit football."

"There's no kidding on - we're not the best team.

"I can't fault these players here in terms of effort, although I do miss working with the standard of player at Liverpool like Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano."

"My goal here is to escape relegation, but it's been like running a 200m race with everyone else having a 50m head start."

Despite Miller's own efforts, including guiding the team to five wins in a row, the attainment of that objective went right down to the last day of the season.

With the J-League drawing to a close on Saturday, JEF were in one of two automatic relegation spots in 17th place.

To avoid the drop, they needed to beat fifth-placed FC Tokyo at home, and hope other results go their way.

Amazingly, the two teams above JEF slipped up, and Miller's team came from two goals down to save their skins with a 4-2 win in the final quarter of an hour.

Fans who regularly watch on at the club's training ground an hour outside Tokyo have been impressed by the Scot's way of working.

"Shikkari shiteiru," (He's very steady and organised) says one, "Majime-sou desu" (He seems serious) adds another.

It may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but these are qualities the Japanese admire.

The club captain, for one, Tommi Shimomura, says Miller has brought with him a totally new atmosphere to the club.

"Before he came we didn't win many games, but he changed our way of thinking and gave us confidence again," said Shimomura.

"He's a very strict, but intelligent coach, and we feel the passion he has for football."

"But when we met him I think I could only understand 40 or 50 percent because of his Scottish accent."

Eight years in England has left no impression on Miller's Drumchapel brogue.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez listens to his former right-hand-man Alex Miller
Miller has swapped England for the exotic environs of Japan's J-League

Difficult though it may be, he is trying to learn Japanese, but life on and off the field is facilitated with the help of his interpreter Hiro.

"A couple of the players can speak some English, but it can be difficult trying to get your point across instantly," says Miller.

At training Hiro faithfully relays Miller's every word to the squad - no matter how trivial.

But although Hiro's English is excellent, he struggles to find an appropriate Japanese equivalent when the boss asks one player if he's been 'on the razzle-dazzle' last night.

Despite any language barriers, Miller comes across as the sort of man who would be at ease on any training ground.

He is also not the 'dour' Scot he is sometimes reputed to be.

Over lunch he is engaging and amusing with anecdotes from his time at Liverpool, transfer negotiations with Sir Alex Ferguson, and his very own 'only-in-Japan' stories.

He still has a great affection for the Reds, on occasion even forgetting himself by referring to the club as 'we'.

Miller admits he is an obsessive student of the game, spending hours poring over football DVDs in his study at home.

But he is also enjoying learning about the place he expects to call home for at least two years.

When not working he can be found shopping in Tokyo's fashionable Ginza district, visiting the local sights, and even taking in the odd pro baseball game at his local stadium.

Yet, although he is adapting well, life in a foreign land still has its drawbacks.

"My wife is also back in the UK, so that is the hardest thing.

"Sometimes you'd like a bit of company to speak about things other than football.

"And I miss Scotland, I used to go to all the national team games.

"I hope they can get to the World Cup so I can go and watch them there."

That, of course, is still two years away.

For now, though, Miller can look forward to another season of top-flight J-League football.

Alex Miller was taking part in a BBC Sport Scotland documentary.

Football Far East: Beyond Nakamura is on BBC2 Scotland at 2200GMT on 22 December 2008

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see also
Miller exits Liverpool for Japan
08 May 08 |  Liverpool

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