As the EFL hold their Youth Development Week between 4th-10th February, we take a look at the process behind the nurturing of Millwall’s young talent.
The Lions’ coveted Under 23 side still hold hope of threatening for a promotion spot from the Professional Development League this campaign after securing an impressive 3-0 victory over Coventry City on Monday, and manager Kevin Nugent has used a number of young and senior players in his side across the campaign so far.
One factor which has helped some young players secure opportunities in Nugent’s team has been the departures of several Millwall lads on short-term loans.
So far, the likes of Lewis White, Harry Donovan and Dan McNamara among others have alternated between Under 23 football at Calmont Road and senior experience in the non-League game. Defenders James Brown and Sid Nelson are currently playing League football on loan, with Lincoln City and Tranmere Rovers respectively.
Nugent explains the need for players to learn their trade in the correct environment, which determines whether a loan spell at a certain time is right for their development.
“The young players here this season have done well. We watch The Championship every week, and we know that it’s a really high level,” Nugent told millwallfc.co.uk.
“There’s a great incentive for the boys when they and their teammates are getting into the matchday squad, but we of course know that players will certainly have to work hard to break through, and there’s pressure on every manager in The Championship to go and get results.
“You want the players ready for the first team who have learnt their trade a little bit.”
The contrasts between youth, Under 23 and senior football are an aspect of a young footballer’s game which must be carefully considered by themselves and their coaches, as echoed by Nugent as he further discusses the loan system.
“There’s a fine balance that goes into a decision to loan a young player out. It needs to be when it will help them – part of it can be to give players experience of a different dressing room, playing regularly with and against more senior players.
“It also adapts the lads to different crowds. If you give the ball away in a first-team game at any level, there’s a groan from the crowd – a pressure you don’t get in the Under 23s – so it’s very hard outside of senior football to replicate those pressure situations.
“Often, as well, when they are on youth loans, they can come back and play Under 23 football for us if they’re not getting a lot of game time for the club they’re at.”
Nugent points at the likes of Premier League stars Harry Kane and Andros Townsend as successes of development elsewhere, with both spending time on loan at Millwall whilst youngsters at Tottenham Hotspur.
“Learning the trade elsewhere can be huge for players. We’ve seen that in the past with players like Harry Kane and Andros Townsend, who are now playing week-in, week-out at the top level.
“There are other young lads who can jump straight through the ranks for the clubs they are with. It depends on the individual, but players making progress and gaining experience elsewhere can benefit us as well as themselves.”
Nugent’s Under 23s next face an away trip to Bristol City in Professional Development League action this Friday (8th February).