From Spain to Shirebrook - Former Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic and MK Dons star on new challenge

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​When Miguel Llera made an unexpected move from the second tier of Spanish football to the bright lights of Milton Keynes in 2008, little did he know it would begin a love affair with English football that would continue to this day.

​That it would one day result in him becoming an assistant manager at a football club in a North Derbyshire mining town would perhaps have been even more of a surprise.

But that is where Llera’s career has now taken him, having recently been installed as assistant to Rudy Funk at Shirebrook Town.

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And as he now plots a way of keeping his new club at step five following their promotion from the Northern Counties East Division One last season, he is happy to look back at where it all began in England, having made nearly 150 professional appearances in his home country.

Llera celebrates after scoring for Sheffield Wednesday at Brentford.Llera celebrates after scoring for Sheffield Wednesday at Brentford.
Llera celebrates after scoring for Sheffield Wednesday at Brentford.

"I was playing with Hercules CF in Spain and the manager wanted to release me from my contract,” he said.

"It all happened very quickly. I was given the chance to go on trial at MK Dons and I flew over on the Friday, trained with them on the Saturday, and with the transfer deadline being on the Monday we had a deal tied up quickly.

"Roberto Di Matteo was the manager and I signed for a year. It was a great opportunity for me and my family and a chance to improve my English as well.

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"I’ve always had a passion for English football so it was an ideal move for me.

Llera in action at his first English club, MK Dons. (Getty Images)Llera in action at his first English club, MK Dons. (Getty Images)
Llera in action at his first English club, MK Dons. (Getty Images)

"I had a good first season, made lots of appearances and scored a couple of goals. I really enjoyed it – I loved the environment and how things are set up in English football.”

Llera turned down an offer to stay with MK Dons, instead making the move to Charlton Athletic.

Two good years there were followed by a less successful spell with Blackpool, from where he was loaned out to Blackpool and then Sheffield Wednesday, the latter being to where he would make his next permanent move.

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Three seasons at Hillsborough brought 91 appearances and 11 goals, before Llera’s playing career eventually ended with Scunthorpe United.

But what was it that made Llera always want to remain in England, rather than ply his trade elsewhere?

"I had a young son and I wanted him to grow up here and be bilingual, but it was easy to make my career here because I loved the fans, the facilities and the football played here,” he said.

"It’s a pleasure to be here and part of the culture of football – the fans are amazing everywhere and the standard of player is getting better all the time.

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"But it wasn’t easy. Foreign players tend to be here because they’re deemed to be better than any English option available, so there is a pressure to perform all the time.

"I never had any long contracts – I think the longest was a year-and-a-half, so the pressure was there to play well, keep clean sheets, score goals and look after myself really well on and off the pitch.”

With his playing career having ended, Llera took on numerous coaching roles whilst also completing his UEFA badges, now having boasted the highest possible – the UEFA Pro Licence – since 2017.

He’s worked with young players at Sheffield Wednesday, Chesterfield and Walsall, also running his own academy.

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In terms of men’s football, he has been on the coaching staff at Sheffield FC, Retford United and Maltby Main, before now linking up with Funk, with whom he feels he shares many similarities.

He said: “Rudy is also from another country, having come from Romania many years ago, and is familiar with the lower levels of the English game.

"We’ve travelled around a lot together watching games over the last six months and he’s helped me out a lot, as has John Knapper who was head of operations and who I have so much to thank for.

"We are now all at Shirebrook, having waited for the right opportunity together, and it will be a new era for the club as we have to build a squad from scratch.

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"It’s helping me build my contacts and improve further as a coach.”

Llera makes no secret of the fact that he intends to use his experience at clubs such as Shirebrook as a stepping stone to the higher levels, such is his desire to be a manager.

Being so highly qualified at Shirebrook’s level is a rarity, but Llera feels it is hard to make progress in the game given his relative lack of experience.

He said: “I can’t do much more on my own now. I’ve had the Pro licence since 2017, it’s not like I’ve only had it for one or two years, but I think chairmen are reluctant to take a punt on new coaches nowadays as they’d rather go for experience, even if they’ve been sacked from other jobs.

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"I want to introduce so much of what I learned as a player. I’ve coached youngsters at the professional clubs who have gone on to have good careers at a higher level and I’ve also worked under and scouted for top coaches like Carlos Carvalhal and Bruno Lage and learned so much.

"Being at such a low level I have to be honest to the players. They have a dream to play higher and I have a dream to coach higher.

"I just need that opportunity, having worked at the levels I have in England and Spain – you can’t get a more qualified coach than me.

"I want it to be a stepping stone but one that I will hopefully look back on and be thankful for.

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"If things work out and I end up progressing then I’ll always return to help the people and the club and never forget it.”

Llera has no plans to return home to Spain. His son is now studying for his A-levels in England having spent some of his childhood in his dad’s home country, and Llera Snr spends time running the Qualitas training programme as well as other coaching commitments.

The task at Shirebrook will be a challenge given how things have changed at Langwith Road, not least a lateral post-promotion move into the United Counties League Premier North rather then the NCEL Premier Division, but Llera is relishing it.

He said: “There is a full rebuild needed and there are limitations to the resources which make it much harder, but we are working hard in training and have had lots of bodies here in pre-season.

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"There certainly aren’t the resources here that there were last season.

"We will mould the players and also want to have quite a young squad. We need a fit squad so they can cope with the high tempo and high pressing football we’ll play.

"A key thing has been building relations back up with the social club because the previous regime didn’t have that and we’ve already improved things which is so important to the club.

"Now Shirebrook is a close-knit, family club where everyone will be pulling in the same direction and hopefully that will bring rewards all round.”