Millwall are playing a different game to the majority of their competitors in the Championship.
Financially restricted and strategically conservative, the Lions are the antithesis of those former Premier League clubs spending big, desperate to make it back to the promised land.
While others have shown little patience, chopping and changing managers, Millwall have stuck with Neil Harris, the longest-serving boss in the division and the seventh overall in the English Football League through thick and thin.
Having “exceeded expectations”, according to their most recent financial statement, by finishing eighth in 2017-18 they eventually came out the right side of a relegation scrap last season, securing their Championship status with two games to spare before finishing 21st.
The club’s may state the main football objective is to “become an established Championship side”, their statement added, but in reality this campaign, which starts at The Den against Preston on Saturday, is to avoid relegation once again.
Anything else is a bonus because Millwall are not set up to reach for the stars. The 2017-18 accounts show the club’s wage budget of £13m was the third lowest in the division, after Barnsley (£9m) and Burton Albion (£8m), who were both relegated.
Although like 18 others that season they recorded a loss, their £5m was a reduction from the previous campaign and minuscule compared with others. In fact Millwall have lost around £65m over the last 10 years and have not nearly broken even since 2004; losses are the reality for many.
While they did bring in a club-record £8m fee for midfielder George Saville to Middlesbrough last summer, Millwall don’t tend to make much money from transfers. Their revenue of £16m in 2017-18 was the sixth lowest in the second tier, with their record signing Tom Bradshaw costing £1.5m – a far cry from their competitors’ top spends.
In many ways Millwall are an old fashioned, traditional outfit, with the club bemoaning the impact of Premier League parachute payments, which have pushed up transfer fees and player salaries, in their financial statement.
There is a concern among fans that this season they could fall behind those throwing around their financial might. Last year’s top scorer Lee Gregory, who has reached double figures in the last four seasons, left for Stoke City and his replacements may struggle to fill his boots.
Matt Smith and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson were signed for modest fees from Queens Park Rangers and Reading respectively and, although they both fit the physical blueprint of Harris’s playing style, neither are prolific in front of goal.
Bradshaw is back from a knee ligament injury which ruined his first season with the Lions and will be expected to provide a return on Millwall’s record transfer fee.
In many ways, though, the most important man at The Den is the manager.
Harris spent 10 years at the club as a player over two spells and he embodies Millwall’s approach, striving to get the most out of the players at his disposal.
His direct, no-nonsense ethos may not be to everyone’s taste, but considering the financial advantages his opponents have, the Lions’ relatively limited resources and realistic ultimate goal, it serves a purpose.
If he can once again keep Millwall’s head above water in the rapidly rising tides of the Championship then the ends will certainly justify the means.
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