Millwall have a proud record historically of bringing through young players into the first team, and academy director Scott Fitzgerald says the club remain committed to continuing that trend.
The likes of Tim Cahill, Steven Reid, Paul Ifill and Lucas Neill have all been nurtured through The Lions’ youth system, forming the nucleus of the 2001 promotion-winning squad – which then came close to sealing promotion to the Premier League just a year later.
And the club’s values towards young talent hasn’t changed, with the Millwall Academy continuing to produce first team stars, most notably Aiden O’Brien (160+ senior appearances), Fred Onyedinma and Mahlon Romeo (80+). This comes as no surprise to Fitzgerald though, in light of the significant investment that has been made within the youth set-up.
He told the club’s official matchday programme: “From the chairman down, through to the first team manager and his assistant to all the coaching staff, there is a commitment to developing as many home-grown players as we possibly can.
“The Millwall fans love to see a local boy breaking into the team and doing well, there has always been a special connection in that respect. Given that we can’t afford to just go out and buy top class players whenever we need them, as some clubs do, it makes perfect sense to produce our own.”
Back in 2006 the club were around 46th out of 92 in the Premier League productivity table, but now lie 10th – underlining the progress that has made been made on and off the field at The Den during that time.
And while regular investment has been a key factor in that, Fitzgerald says “patience” is even more pivotal.
He added: “Patience is a key factor in all of this. As the first team plays at a higher level, we may have to wait a little longer before blooding young players, which is where we have used the loan system to good effect in getting the likes of Sid (Nelson), Kris (Twardek) and James (Brown) out playing firstteam football elsewhere.
“It’s a big jump from the Under 23s to The Championship, and giving young players the experience of playing senior football is invaluable.
“The other way we test the mettle of young players is to play them above their age group, and that has always been the policy since I came here.
“Consequently, we regularly field 15 and 16-year-olds in the Under 18s. There is a balance to be struck between producing players for the first team and winning matches at youth level, but for us the emphasis is very much on the former.
“We want to be the best and strongest Academy in south London and to do that we must attract the best boys in the first instance.”