WHILE MOST of the focus and interest of fans is on who Neil Harris is signing and selling, Millwall’s youth sides are back in pre-season and those in charge are building for the campaigns ahead.
Harris said this summer the club have the best group of young players in three years. In the last year alone Millwall have seen two of their most promising young players – Darko Gyabi and Samuel Edozie – join Manchester City for deals that could eventually be worth around £3million.
While there is some frustration at seeing that kind of talent pinched by bigger clubs, it also shows that Millwall are discovering and developing players, with compensation fees then ploughed back into the academy.
Last Friday night, Lions fans were able to catch a glimpse of some of the club’s next generation. The previous weekend Junior Tiensia and Reuben Duncan were in action for the first team at Concord, with the latter scoring the third in a 4-0 win.
While some under-23s, such as Billy Mitchell and Tyler Burey, joined the first-team squad for their training camp in Portugal, Tiensia and Duncan were playing in Rotherhithe, where a Millwall XI defeated Fisher 3-0 at St Paul’s.
Academy boss Scott Fitzgerald was there, along with under-23 manager Kevin Nugent (above), and Chris Perry and Larry McAvoy, who are over the under-18s, a side that pushed Tottenham all the way in an FA Youth Cup tie last season before losing 2-1 after extra-time.
Millwall played a 4-3-3 formation against the Fish, as they look to equip their players with different skill sets and tactical knowledge.
“We always do that through the underage groups,” Nugent said about giving their young players experience of different systems. “When the players come in at 16 years of age for their scholarship they’re here to learn different types of football and the formations do change a lot.
“We’ve taken on plenty of scholars from last year. There are some good lads who’ve gone away to Portugal with the first team. We’ve brought lads in externally as well so there’s plenty of changes, we’ve got people looking at games [scouting] all the time.
“It’s just pre-season and I’ve said it before, there’s a big step-up between any 23s football and the Championship, so it’s tough for players to get through.
“But we’re doing all we can to do that.
“There’s plenty of work to do, but we feel we’ve got a group that have real character about them. It would be good if they were to step into that first team and give every single thing they’ve got.
“This game was about the work ethic. They’ve only had a small number of minutes so far so it’s just about getting the rustiness out and making sure they’re ready for the start of the season.
“They’ve got to improve in every game they play. We go through the video of this game and analyse every part of it and show them what they need to know.
“It wasn’t as much of a developing experience when I was younger.”
Former Swansea, Bristol City and Cardiff striker Nugent began his career at Leyton Orient and enjoyed a loan spell at Fisher in the 1980s.
He recognises the importance of forming those relationships with local clubs.
He said: “I came on loan to Fisher years ago to what was then the Conference and is now the National League. I came from Orient and it was a really good learning experience. They were based just around here.
“You come from Orient, where I might have played a few first-team games, and then you’re playing in men’s football. It was very tough in those days as well.
"It’s good to keep your local links. They’re active in and around this area so it was a good night for everyone.”
Millwall had a mix of under-18s, under-23s and trialists on Friday as they prepare for the new Professional Development season.
“It’s all about fitness. The teams were chopping and changing so we haven’t done any sort of work on shape,” Nugent said. “It’s for the lads to get their sharpness up and Fisher are a local club so it’s good to support them as well.
“It was a great workout and a tough game, our keeper had to make a few saves early on. it was an excellent game for us.
“Our lads were back in pre-season the same day as the first team, the youth lads slightly after. We try to bridge that gap to the first team all the time.
“Lads have been sold on at a young age, up to Manchester City. You can see that things are getting down in the right way.
“That’s just the reality nowadays, that’s the frustration of having young players of ability [attracting interest and sold]. You just have to take the positives from it.
“Scott Fitzgerald is doing a fantastic job organising it all and building it from the bottom. These things take time but it’s all looking good at the moment.”
Image: Millwall FC