Breaking into the professional soccer industry is considered, by many, a major accomplishment in itself, but carving out a successful career – particularly one glittered with championship trophies and acclaim at an international level – is a somewhat rare achievement.
With six league titles and two cup competitions to his name, attending combine coach Mark Miller is one of those rare achievers. His playing career has seen him feature for clubs including Newcastle United and Gillingham, while his accomplishments as a coach have earned him roles with Malta’s national team.
With less than four weeks until PSC’s combine events get underway, we caught up with Miller to find out more about his illustrious career, gain advice which he can offer to combine attendees, and much more.
Hi, Mark! Tell us a little bit about your soccer career…
I started playing professionally with Newcastle Utd, from there I went to play non-league, semi-professional football for three months with a club called Whitley Bay, before once again signing professionally with Gillingham in Division Three.
My stint with Gillingham lasted three years, before a move to Doncaster Rovers – where we won the league title. I then moved onto Darlington, where I sustained a serious injury and took some time to recover – so I headed out to Malta to maintain my career.
In Malta, I spent my first season with a side named Floriana, before spending a championship-winning campaign with another Maltese side – Rabat Ajax. In winning the title we qualified for the European Cup [now known as the UEFA Champions League], and were eliminated by Portuguese giants FC Porto – who actually went on to win the competition that season.
I returned to Floriana as a player-coach – we managed to finish second in my opening season, qualifying for Europe. We won the league and cup double in the second season – once again qualifying into Europe. This time we reached the second round, where we faced Borussia Dortmund, and, just like Porto, they went on to win the competition.
I continued operating as a player-coach with Sliema Wanderers, also of the Maltese top tier. I won one league title with Sliema before taking up a full-time coaching role with Hibernians FC.
Over a period of 15 years I had three spells with Hibernians, leading them to two Maltese Premier League titles and one Maltese FA Cup. I also spent nine years coaching the U17, U19 and U21 Malta national teams.
Additionally, I spent time educating for UEFA coaching courses.
You noted that your first experience as a coach was with Floriana, in Malta… How did you find your first taste of coaching in the professional game?
I had just finished my coaching badges but it was not easy as I was still not experienced enough. As I mentioned, it was a player-coach role, and I began coaching the team halfway through the season. I do look back now and wonder how I ever managed to coach and play – but I gained a lot of experience from it.
We managed to finish in second place in my first season, meaning European qualification – which was very good for the club in a financial sense. The following season was the league and cup double-winning campaign.
After gaining significant experience as a player and a coach, what three aspects of the game have you learned which you would’ve benefitted from knowing earlier in your career?
Being prepared: organising, planning for the game, analysis of your team and of the opponents. Communicating well: delivering the right message to players in the best manner; getting players to buy into your ideas. Delivery: how we coach, how we speak to the player; you need that player and you must get the best out of that player – so you must find a way to get into the player’s head and ensure that he/she believes you.
As a coach, what are the most important qualities that you look for in a player?
When I spot a talented player, it’s vital that the individual is coachable: ready to learn more and always willing to listen. Has a strong work ethic: never gives up and is always trying to improve. And finally, has respect for other people and behaves in the correct manner, both on and off the pitch.
Finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring professionals, what would it be?
A player should always have an outstanding attitude, both on and off the pitch; it’s a standout trait that I always look for in a player.
If a player displays that great attitude, they’ll always have a chance of making it in the professional game. If I see a player who has a bad attitude, I know there’s a strong chance that individual will cause problems.
Thanks for having a chat with us, Mark. We’ll see you soon!
See you soon!
Coaches and scouts from around the globe, including Miller, will be on the lookout for players capable of playing at the professional level during six combine events across the States this June and July. Be sure to visit our Upcoming Events page for more information.
This article was written by Joe Angove – a sports journalist currently working with PSC. Joe’s work has been published and broadcasted by The Independent, the BBC, Goal.com and Plymouth Argyle FC, among other news outlets and sports clubs.