GARY Rowett believes the current England squad shows how EFL experience has benefited players – as speculation surrounds one of Millwall’s most talented youngsters.
Abdul Abdulmalik, 18, was offered a new contract after the end of the season but he has been linked with a move away from the club.
There has been interest from Championship rivals and also from the Premier League.
It’s not the first time the south London club have been in this position, though with younger players involved. Darko Gyabi in 2018 and Samuel Edozie a year later both joined Manchester City as 14-year-olds with both deals worth well over £1million when add-ons are included.
The Lions would be entitled to compensation set by a tribunal were Abdulmalik to move on.
Abdulmalik has yet to make a first-team appearance for Millwall but he has caught the eye in the underage ranks. He was part of a Lions side that reached the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2020 before a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea, and he has also represented England under-17s.
Three of England’s starters in their 1-0 Euro 2020 win over Croatia last Sunday – Tyrone Mings, Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount – have played in the Championship in recent seasons.
Gareth Southgate first called up Leeds’ Phillips before he had played in the Premier League, and the England squad is packed with players who either started their careers in the Championship or moved to EFL clubs on loan to gain first-team experience.
In fact, of Southgate’s 26-man squad at this summer’s tournament, only six players – Declan Rice, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Bukayo Sako – have never played in the EFL.
Captain Harry Kane went on loan to Millwall in 2012 and explained how important his spell at The Den was for his career.
“My loan at Millwall was a big part of my development,” Kane said before the Lions’ FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in 2017.
“I was 18, we were in a relegation battle and it turned me into a man. I played in difficult, high-pressure games and I managed to come out of it positively.”
Rowett knows what it’s like to reach the top of the football ladder after starting out in the lower leagues. He began his career with Cambridge United before first playing in the top flight for Everton.
Rowett feels the focus of young players should be to gain first-team experience rather than get distracted by the prospect of a quick move to a big club.
“I think the England team at one point consisted virtually of all players that had some EFL experience, whether that was out on loan or starting at clubs like that,” Rowett said.
“For me, a young player only fulfils his potential after he’s played 50 league games somewhere. You never quite know what the potential is.
“So my opinion is, if I were a young player – I started out at Cambridge United – I’d pick a club where I thought I had an opportunity to get into the team.
“That’s more important than the badge on your tracksuit being a Premier League badge.
“That’s how I think about it and that’s how a young player should feel, in my opinion.
“However, we know there are agents, there are people telling players certain things that maybe at certain ages they’re going to listen to more than if they were a little bit older and a bit more mature.
“It’s the way of the world, you’re not going to stop it.
“But that’s what I think young players should want to do – play games.”
Image: Millwall FC