Steven Gerrard had huge influence on Preston North End deadline day signing Liam Millar
It was far from plain sailing for Liam Millar upon his arrival in England as a 13-year-old. Football had always been the dream for the Canadian, who was born in Toronto and wanted to emulate his boyhood idols in Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Steven Gerrard more than anything in the world.
Millar swapped Brampton and Oakville for England’s capital city, with Fulham snapping him up as a teenager. The initial challenge was tough, with Millar admitting it took him two-and-half-years to develop sufficiently and adapt to the English game. The pace was something completely new, with Millar suddenly feeling like a small fish in a big pond; much different to life back home.
And in the first few years, Millar had to go through some tough times alone. Having left his family and friends behind, the distance did take its toll on the player, who said in a 2021 interview: “I was a 12-year-old kid. I left all of my family and friends. It was a hard time in my life. All I wanted to do was fulfil my dreams, but I didn’t want to lose all my friends and not be with my family. It was hard to adjust to the lifestyle, at first. Everything was so different in England.
“North America is very modern, wide open and there is so much space. London is more packed and a little older. I also had to make new friends at school, all that kind of stuff. It took a couple of years to take in ‘I am here now’ for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t comfortable sleeping alone. My whole life I’d shared a room with my brother. When I moved over we had a two-bedroom place. I slept in with my dad. I would cry most nights. Sometimes people don’t understand throwing away your whole life for something you want to do.”
Come 2016, the Cottagers couldn’t tie Millar down to a long-term deal and Liverpool saw an opportunity to swoop in. Former Blackpool boss Neil Critchley was the man to bring Millar through the door, with attacking options thin and the Canadian youth international’s movement and finishing appealing to the Reds.
Millar was a number nine for large parts of his youth career, but started to move out to the left after a couple of years with Liverpool - a change he embraced. He was harsh on himself too, though. During his Liverpool days, Millar said: “I think, mentally, I need to improve. I think I’m fit, I think I’m OK technically, tactically I’m OK, but mentally I think I do need to improve a bit.
“Dealing with mistakes and stuff like that. Sometimes I tend to overthink stuff and I just need to play on with it. I’m working on it now. It’s like resets and stuff - if I miss something, reset, stop thinking about it, think about something else. Try and do whatever you can to not think about missing a chance or giving the ball away.”
The player he idolised on the television would then become his coach, with Gerrard working for Liverpool’s academy before his venture into first-team management. Millar’s gratitude towards Gerrard is significant and his tough love approach resonated with Millar - who felt as though he matured greatly under the Reds legend’s guidance.
Four years ago, he said: “(Gerrard) helped me a lot and I always say I’m very grateful for everything he’s done for my career. The thing with me is that I like coaches who aren’t too soft and aren’t too hard – that works the best for me. There was a time when I wasn’t playing well and he just dropped me. I was like ‘what?’ because I had never been dropped before. That shock motivated me to push on.
“From that point on I scored in every single game from when I got back in until Christmas. Little things like that – him trying to push me to get an edge - helped me. When he first dropped me he didn’t say anything. Then if I needed a rest he would pull me aside and explain it and say others needed game time. He explained things well to me and it helped me get over the disappointment of not starting.
“When you’re young you want to start all the time. But him doing that last year helped me to realise that it’s not how many minutes you get it’s what you do with them that counts. I’m a young kid in a senior environment and I’m not expected to start every week. And that’s something that helped me – I know I have to prove my worth.”
Millar would go on to spend two separate loan spells with Scottish side Kilmarnock, for the second half of the 2018/19 campaign and first half of the 2019/20 season. A couple of goals were scored in 36 appearances, before Charlton made a loan move for the player in January 2021. Millar netted twice in 27 games and was then signed for a reported £1.3million by FC Basel that summer.
He first graced the international stage in March 2018, making his senior debut under John Herdman after receiving his first call-up. Millar has represented Canada at the CONCACAF Gold Gup and FIFA World Cup, with him a substitute in last year’s group stage match against Belgium. Millar scored his first goal for Canada back in July, against Cuba.