Interview: George Saville on why he wanted Millwall return, playing back at The Den – and aspirations for the season

By Jake Sanders

GEORGE Saville reckons he has unfinished business at Millwall and says that he’s returned with the hope of achieving something special in SE16.

Saville, 28, became Gary Rowett’s fifth summer addition last Friday when he sealed a sensational return to The Den for what will be his fourth spell with the club.

He enjoyed two brief loan stints with the Lions as a youngster before signing permanently following their promotion through the play-offs under Neil Harris in 2017.

Saville quickly became a key part of the midfield alongside Shaun Williams, scoring a career-high 10 Championship goals to help Millwall finish eighth, narrowly missing out on the top-six despite going 17 matches without losing.

However, he left to join Middlesbrough on Deadline Day at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, although he said that he never wanted to leave in the first place: “It was difficult, we had a fantastic group there and had an unbelievable season – it was probably my best season to date on a personal level.

“But at the time Middlesbrough were going for automatic promotion and were throwing big money around, so it was a decision taken out of Millwall’s hands and my hands because of the money that was being paid.

“It was not a case of wanting to leave, it was a case of this is what is happening and is out of your hands.

“You know what they say, don’t go back to a place that you’ve been. We came up to the Championship and came eighth. It was a little bit of a rocky season after that, but the last two years have been stable. The manager has come in and pushed the club in the right direction, so I wanted to come back and I want to achieve something special.

“This is my fourth spell now. Since Kenny Jackett gave me the opportunity to experience first-team football, I’ve always looked out for the club, tracked the club and have always been happy to see them do well, and even when I do leave and am older, I will always follow Millwall.”

Saville had just one year left on his Boro deal but until recently, hadn’t considered a return to South Bermondsey. However, when the chance presented itself to the midfielder, turning it down never crossed his mind.

Saville said: “My agent said there was interest, and a deal could be done, so I spoke to Middlesbrough, and it suited all parties. I was heading into my last year, so it suited Boro and suited myself because everyone knows that I am very fond of Millwall football club.

“Towards the end of the season there was nothing, no talks. It was a busy season, but I had international fixtures as well, so I didn’t think too much about it and then towards the end of June there was talks and then when they gave me the decision, it was a no-brainer.”

But why is now the right time for Saville to return for a fourth stint at The Den? “The club are progressing,” the 28-year-old admitted.

“The last couple of years they’ve had good finishes in the league, and speaking to people at the football club, they were quite disappointed with that. The boys won once in 15, so a couple of wins in there and they could have finished higher. So just the progression of the club, stability of the club, financially it’s a very well-run football club, fantastic owner, and obviously the manager is taking the football club in the right direction, so there’s a lot to admire, and I want to be a part of it.

Millwall finished eighth in Saville’s last season, and repeated that feat in Rowett’s first year at the club before coming close once again in 2020-21 – eventually falling short and come 11th. Despite five impressive signings already made by the Lions boss, few will have Millwall as one of those sides to finish in those top-six positions.

But Saville knows that anything can happen in one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world.

He said: “I’d say there’s probably 16 clubs in the Championship that can make the play-offs. I think it’s about making sure we start well and give us a platform to really kick on towards the end of the season.

“There’s a fantastic group of lads here already, and a good spine, so for the new lads that have signed, hopefully we are just adding to that quality. He’s a good manager, he seems a good guy, I have heard good things, he’s got a proven track record at previous clubs.

“So, for me, it’s about getting the trust from him, and working hard to do my best so I can perform to the best of my ability.”

Saville has played in front of some memorable atmospheres at The Den, perhaps none better than against Fulham at the end of 2017-2018, but following 18 months without supporters, he cannot wait to hear them back in action.

“I’m buzzing,” said the midfielder. “The last 18 months have been difficult, there are some games that have been flat, but especially with Millwall fans, I’m buzzing for that first game.

“I experienced it [The Den], the London games, Leeds at home, the Norwich game at home when we won 4-0, the atmosphere is unbelievable, and the players are as excited as the fans.”