State of play: Analysing Millwall’s squad – and what’s needed in the next transfer window

MILLWALL are set for a big summer in the transfer market as they try to bridge the gap to the top six.

There are players out of contract, loanees have returned to their parent clubs and there are questions over the futures of several others in the squad.

Here, we take a look at the current squad (of players who have played a senior game) and what is needed in the next transfer window.

Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski, George Long

Comment: This is potentially the one area of the pitch that Millwall don’t need to look at over the summer. Bartosz Bialkowski turns 35 in July but he has just had one of his best seasons.

The issue could be if George Long decides to move on to try to get regular football. The Lions would need to recruit an experienced No.2 or perhaps bring in a young goalkeeper on loan from the Premier League to put serious pressure on Bialkowski.

Defenders: Danny McNamara, Mahlon Romeo, Hayden Muller, Alex Mitchell, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace, Scott Malone

Leaving: Alex Pearce

End of loan: Daniel Ballard

Alex Pearce is set to leave this summer

Comment: Millwall are pretty well-stocked in defence though Gary Rowett could look at replacements for Alex Pearce and Daniel Ballard, if it’s not possible to bring the latter back on loan from Arsenal.

Alex Mitchell and Hayden Muller will feel they should be making a first-team breakthrough this season, though both are only 20 so there is plenty of time for them and the Lions could decide on loans for the pair.

Mahlon Romeo will probably depart. Romeo hinted as early as last September he had played his last game for the club.

The Lions perhaps need competition for Danny McNamara, who was brought back from his loan at St Johnstone in January 2021 as competition for Romeo before taking his place in the side.

Midfielders: Billy Mitchell, George Saville, Ryan Leonard, George Evans, Maikel Kieftenbeld

End of loan: Luke Freeman

Comment: In the current 5-2-3/5-2-1-2 system, Millwall have four contracted players for two positions. It remains to be seen if Maikel Kieftenbeld will be a fifth.

The issue last season was goals from this area. There were just three in the league, two from George Saville and one from George Evans. When Rowett and his staff are looking at the reasons why they fell short of the play-offs, that will be one.

And then there is the question of how to address it. Saville has more goals in him – he scored 10 from midfield in 2017-18 – but going on their careers to date the others probably don’t.

One alternative would be to change to a default 4-3-3 system next season, adding an attack-minded midfielder to the team instead of a defender.

Millwall have been linked with a move for 19-year-old Newcastle midfielder Elliott Anderson. He was on loan at Bristol Rovers – where he operated a lot on the left – in the second half of the season and scored the seventh and decisive goal in their incredible 7-0 win at home to Scunthorpe to clinch automatic promotion from League Two on goal difference. That was his eighth goal in 21 league games.

In that system, Mitchell would be the holding midfielder with Saville and one other getting forward to join the attacks. Or there are two defensive midfielders with an attacking midfielder in front of them.

It is certainly an area that the recruitment department will have high up on their agenda this summer.

Forwards: Tom Bradshaw, Mason Bennett, Tyler Burey, Jed Wallace, Nana Boateng, Zak Lovelace, Isaac Olaofe

Leaving: Connor Mahoney

End of loan: Benik Afobe, Oliver Burke, Sheyi Ojo

Benik Afobe opens the scoring against Peterborough United

Comment: There were what appeared to be two long goodbyes to and from Jed Wallace in the last week of the season.

After the 3-0 win over Peterborough United at The Den, Wallace posed for a photo with Millwall’s media team and spoke to fans during the squad’s lap of honour.

And after the last game of the season against AFC Bournemouth, Wallace was the last Lions player applauding the away supporters, who chanted, “we want you to stay”.

It has arguably been the biggest question over the season after Rowett confirmed last summer that the club had offered their best player a new contract. That remains unsigned.

Wallace turned 28 in March and wants to play at the top level. His numbers for goals and assists over the past three seasons suggest he deserves a shot and that there should be some Premier League sides interested in him.

One of those would surely be Nottingham Forest if they go up through the play-offs. Forest bid for Wallace in January.

Or maybe if Luton secure a remarkable promotion they could see Wallace as an obvious target.

Where Wallace goes if he leaves won’t be Millwall’s concern. Replacing him will be and it will be the most challenging task in the next transfer window.

If Rowett does play 4-3-3 then he would need a striker who can do most things very well: hold up the ball, win balls in the air, link the play, run in behind – oh, and score at least 15 league goals.

You might think the obvious question then is, ‘great, do we have £10million to spare?’ But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. To pick one example from the Championship this season, Viktor Gyökeres, who Coventry City signed for around £1million from Brighton and who scored 17 league goals in 2021-22. There are bargains out there, even if they also often qualify as punts.

The Lions have finished eighth, 11th and ninth under Rowett, though that latter position is a little deceiving in view of progress made given the side posted their highest points total of those three campaigns.

You can always say the next season has the feel of being the big one, but that’s certainly the case in 2022-23.

Millwall have edged closer to the top six. They were a game away this season, albeit needing other results to go their way.

They should have a good core next season. How they add to it will determine if they can take the next step.

Image: Millwall FC 

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John Kelly

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