SCOTT Malone admitted he feels “fortunate” after he sealed a permanent move to Millwall from Derby County last week – as other players scramble to secure clubs this summer.
Malone, 30, was heading out of contract with the Rams at the end of June and pointed to the example of one of his ex-team-mates who hasn’t been able to find a club for almost a year.
Wing-back Malone and former England international Tom Huddlestone were in the same Derby squad that reached the play-off final under Frank Lampard in 2019. But Huddlestone was released last summer at the age of 33 and didn’t play a game last season.
There are over 100 players out of contract after leaving Championship clubs this summer, including Frank Fielding, Shaun Williams and Shane Ferguson who were released by Millwall.
Malone was never going to be in that category after he matched his career-best six goals in a season. Boss Gary Rowett also made it clear he wanted a permanent move for a player he first coached at Burton in 2010.
Malone knew where he wanted to be in 2021-22, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about others with less certain futures.
“It [the decision on the move] was made a few weeks before the season finished,” Malone told the News. “It was, ‘we want to keep you’. I was just really concentrating on finishing the season well. I’d played well all season, I didn’t want anything to affect my mind-frame, to be honest.
“And then a few days after the season finished it was pretty much all agreed and all signed.
“It’s my third time back at the club now and I love it there. It’s a unique club, it really is. The lads are great, I’ve loved my time there the last two stints.
“Everything was there and is there for me to go and play well again, so why disrupt that?
“The first season at Derby went well, we got into the play-off final and everything was good. But then my second season there, my last season, it went a bit wrong. I wasn’t in the team.
“I think now I’m getting back to playing my best football. I‘m happy with that so long may it continue.
“It [completing a transfer at the start of the summer] takes the stress out of it. I’m in a very fortunate position because with Covid there are so many free agents available, so many good players out of contract that are probably sitting there now thinking, ‘what am I going to do?’
“You look at one player, for instance, Tom Huddlestone, that I played with at Derby. He was out of contract last summer and didn’t play football all season.
“You have to take these things into consideration. He’s one of the best midfielders I’ve ever played with. I know he’s a little older now but in my opinion he could walk into most Championship teams in the middle of the park. He’s that good. And yet he didn’t play football all season.
“If you look at it like that then I can say I’m very fortunate to be in the position I‘m in.”
The fact that Rowett is his manager was also a factor in agreeing the move.
“I had him at Burton, he was the assistant. It was in League Two and I was playing as a winger, really, though I was at left-back. So he knew I could do that,” Malone said.
“When I came in he said, ‘I want more attacking from you. You’ve got to do the defensive side as well but I want you to be the attacking wing-back that I want’.
“I think that suits my game. In the end it was a good fit.”
Malone now considers himself one of the leaders in the dressing room.
“Definitely, 30 years old and with the amount of games I’ve played in the Championship,” he said.
“Especially after losing Willo and Fergie, they’d been here for so long.
“This will be my fifth season with Millwall, so that puts me up there with the longest-serving, if you can call it longest-serving over three periods.
“Coops [Jake Cooper] has been there a while, Hutchy [Shaun Hutchinson]. I‘m in the handful of longest-serving so I‘d like to say I‘m one of the senior lads in the changing room.
“The goal return I was happy with. I’m a little bit disappointed I didn’t get more. I can think of chances in my head now that I should have taken, really.
“I think I should have been on eight or nine if not double figures given the chances I had.
“But saying that, the games return – 43 in all – that’s something I am proud off. Especially coming off the back of my last season at Derby.”
Malone and his family were heading off to Portugal this week for a well-earned break.
The squad had just two weeks fully off last summer after the suspension of football during which time they had to train on their own. That meant from the start of pre-season training in 2019-20 to the end of the campaign in July, more than a year with no time off.
Malone explained the challenges of that and then the quick turnaround to 2020-21.
“It was getting going last season [2019-20] and then having to stop but then you didn’t really stop,” Malone said. “Even though we spent the best part of two months at home it was, ‘you need to keep fit, we’re not sure how long this is going to go on for’.
“We had running programmes at home which wasn’t ideal because you end up having to run down the local park, run on pavements, that’s even harder. That was mentally testing.
“So we’ve only really had two weeks off the last eighteen months. It took its toll towards the end of the season.
“For a lot of last season you’re just playing off pure adrenaline. You didn’t really train mid-week. If you were away on the Wednesday and then the Saturday you couldn’t train. You had to travel into the training ground for recovery and then you’re off travelling again.
“It was six months of just playing games. It was tough.”
Image: Millwall FC