WITH the official departure of Alex Pearce this summer after Matt Smith left last January, Millwall have lost a fair chunk of experience from the squad that started the last campaign.
Both players were out of contract last summer but boss Gary Rowett wanted them as part of his squad last season. Pearce and Smith agreed new deals though both knew their playing time would be further limited compared to the previous campaign.
Rowett and his recruitment department – including Alex Aldridge back as head of football operations – are planning for a busy summer in the transfer market.
One key question is whether they need to replace that experience. Or at least get players with solid experience in the Championship if not quite the several hundred appearances Pearce and Smith have between them.
Work is already well under way to assemble a squad for 2022-23. The Lions currently have 19 senior players contracted to the club beyond this season and one of them, Mahlon Romeo, is likely to leave this summer.
Several young players who have made senior appearances for Millwall, such as Alex Mitchell and Nana Boateng, could be sent out on loan, bringing that squad number down.
Jed Wallace (above, left) and Maikel Kieftenbeld are due to be out of contract at the end of June though both have been offered new deals.
While Pearce’s influence on the pitch won’t be a huge miss given he made just nine appearances last season, what he brings off the pitch will be hard to replace.
Rowett explained what Millwall are losing after the last game of the season against AFC Bournemouth.
“He’s led when he hasn’t played loads,” Rowett said. “He came in [to start] against Coventry and was absolutely phenomenal as a leader. There are not many players like Pearcey.
“What I would say is that there should be a lot of clubs out there looking at Alex Pearce because what he can do is galvanise your dressing room and show leadership.
“He’s one of very few players left [like that] and he’s also a very good footballer so he’ll have options this summer.
“But for every team you sometimes have to move forward in a different way, and Pearcey understands that.”
The biggest changes this summer will be in attack. From last season’s squad, top-scorer Benik Afobe, Oliver Burke and Sheyi Ojo have returned to their parent clubs.
Millwall haven’t replaced Smith after the target man left for League Two Salford City. Rowett has spoken about “going in a different direction” by trying to sign young, mobile forwards so it remains to be seen if there is a place for an experienced big man up front. Not only that, but one who would be happy starting at least half the games on the bench. A player such as Tom Eaves, perhaps.
It should be something worth considering given how often Smith was such an effective weapon coming off the bench. The injury-time winner against Charlton Athletic at The Den in Rowett’s first season immediately springs to mind.
Another player leaving, Connor Mahoney, only proved his worth a handful of times. There were several false dawns after his £1million move from AFC Bournemouth in the summer of 2019. His best month for the club was probably January 2020, when he came on and scored in a 3-1 league win against Luton Town and then followed that up with another goal and an excellent performance full of skill and flair in the next game, a 3-0 FA Cup third-round victory over Newport County. But he never kicked on from there.
Millwall’s biggest job will be replacing the goals and assists of Afobe and Wallace, if they can’t get the former back from Stoke City and if the latter leaves. Wallace got 12 assists last season, adding to his double-figure goal and assist hauls from each of the two previous seasons. An under-contract Wallace would probably fetch well over £5million in the transfer market, a figure Millwall couldn’t pay for a replacement, underlining the size of the challenge if their best player has played his last game for the club.
News emerged yesterday that West Bromwich Albion are talking to Wallace over a move to The Hawthorns.
Add Wallace’s potential departure to those of Pearce and Smith from last season’s squad that started the campaign and it is a huge chunk of nous and knowhow as well as their impacts on the pitch, particularly in the case of the former.
It’s just another layer added into what is set to be a fascinating window for the Lions.
Image: Millwall FC