Millwall’s ambition v gamble – and Derby warning

MILLWALL chief executive Steve Kavanagh knows the club have to be “ambitious” this summer – but the Lions won’t “gamble” as they aim to bridge the gap to the top six next season.

Millwall got 69 points in 2021-22 as they finished ninth. It was the highest points total under Gary Rowett. The Lions took their play-off challenge to the last day before they lost 1-0 at AFC Bournemouth, though the result was irrelevant as other scores didn’t go their way.

Millwall have only broken their transfer record twice in the last 32 years. That was in 2018-19 when they spent just over £1million each on Tom Bradshaw and Ryan Leonard.

But the club were ambitious last season, particularly in the loan market where they signed Benik Afobe from Stoke, Daniel Ballard from Arsenal and Sheyi Ojo from Liverpool before the start of the campaign.

The Lions then put in January bids for Dutch top-flight players Zian Flemming and Bart Ramselaar. Millwall also wanted Louie Sibley, who scored a hat-trick for Derby County at The Den in 2020.

Derby are the most recent cautionary tale for other sides in the Championship who are aiming to make that jump into the top six. The Rams were relegated to League One last season after having 21 points deducted for financial irregularities.

It was only just over three years ago that Derby were in the play-off final, with a squad that included current Millwall players Scott Malone and Mason Bennett. The Rams lost to Aston Villa and despite the best efforts of manager Wayne Rooney have dropped into the third tier for the first time since 1985-86.

Millwall boss Gary Rowett said recently he intended to “try to push for a little bit more than we’d normally spend”.

Kavanagh knows the club are in a good position to continue their progress in the top half.

“I think that’s right and we have shown throughout the years that we are ambitious without being stupid and negligent with the long-term viability of the club,” Kavanagh said.

“We’ve all seen what’s happened in the last couple of years with clubs that have taken that gamble to get there and then not achieved it.

“It’s striking that balance to make sure we keep moving forward.

“I’m not going to get caught into, ‘are we going to spend x, y, or z?’ But the intention is to keep driving this club forward and keep taking the right steps to get us that bit closer and give ourselves the best chance we can of taking that final step and landing the dream [of promotion].”

Jed Wallace and CEO Steve Kavanagh

Kavanagh is pleased with the progress under Rowett, who is going into his third full season in charge.

Kavanagh said: “We keep moving little steps forward, that’s what the last three years have been. For us, given you’re competing against clubs with massive parachute payments which make the Championship so unbalanced, getting to be one of the clubs that then get into the play-offs, the chances of that really are so slim.

“To be on the edges of that, yes of course it’s success and we carry on moving forward. But, ultimately success is driven by promotion.

“Getting into the play-offs and beyond that is what the small steps and the building of the sustainability of the club is all about, to keep moving it forward and to keep driving us on to aspire to get to the best level we can get to.”

Image: Millwall FC

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John Kelly