By Jake Sanders
Gary Rowett has identified the importance of giving opportunities to youth players – but said they will have to ‘earn the right’ to be in his team.
Billy Mitchell and George Alexander are two youngsters that have been on the fringes of the first-team for some time and were both handed their senior debuts by Neil Harris at Wigan in May, whilst Ben Thompson, a player that has already caught Rowett’s eye, is another product of Millwall’s academy.
The 45-year-old watched from the stands as the Lions drew with Cardiff City on Tuesday before taking training for the first time on Thursday morning.
“When you see young Thommo [Ben Thompson] in the game you can just see what he brings to the team and what he brings to the fans,” said Rowett.
“He is a Millwall boy, so I think that is important. I think a club like Millwall there is always going to be that desire to get young players through both from a financial aspect and the fact culturally you want them to do that.
“Training, on first impression, was probably as good as any I’ve seen in terms of application and quality at times. We’re looking to make a stamp on things with the squad we have, and hopefully we’ll be in a very good position moving forward.
“We had Billy Mitchell training today with the first-team and again you can see what a good player he is. There will be lots of opportunities for those players, but it is important that that player has to earn the right to be in any team, regardless of how old they are, but also, the numbers aren’t massive in the first-team squad, the Under-23s are pretty close when they are training to the first-team, so it is important for us to get that, not just for the players, but with the staff understanding how we work as well and creating that mindset all through the club.
“There are some good young players coming through and again due to numbers of the squad there will opportunities for them to make that break.
Rowett has been a regular on Sky Sports’ The Debate show since he was sacked by Stoke City in January and even though he has welcomed the break from football, he has been itching to return to management ever since the season got back underway in August.
He said: “I have been getting out the house, running most mornings, that is why I am slightly thinner than I usually am. Give me another few months and I am sure I will put that back on.
“It is like anything, when you’re not working when you’ve worked in such a high pressured role – I know there are many pressured jobs out there – it is not real pressure is it football? But that’s how we describe it. Just trying to learn and hone what we have done in terms of our philosophy and how we have worked. Trying to spend a bit of time with the family, do things that I enjoy doing, a bit of travelling.
“It has been great. The first three or four months it’s brilliant, it’s like anyone that works hard if you get three months off you’d be like ‘wow this is brilliant, I can go and do all the things that I want’ and then about the fourth month you start thinking ‘I am getting a bit bored now’ I need to get back in.
“The start of the season was the catalyst for me. Once the season started and all the games started kicking off. Punditry is great because I have been very fortunate to quite a lot with good companies and you’re watching games of football and you’re still there, but it’s not quite the same as being on the touchline within the game.”
Rowett has a passion for reading and was once given the nickname Textbook during his playing days at Leicester City.
“I am glad you have mentioned that, that’s not going to go down very well. I read, I am a learner, that’s what I like,” the Lions boss admitted. “I like to challenge myself in different ways. I must have listened to about one thousand podcasts before off because that is all I have been doing. I have gone from reading books, which I am ashamed to say I have put the book down and listening to stuff, which I might have to change my mindset now.
“But no, it’s great to be able to do that. That’s my mentality, I am just interested in learning about anything and arming myself with any knowledge.”
During his nine-month break from football, the former Stoke and Birmingham City manager has been gearing up for his return to management by studying a number of different sports, including UFC.
Rowett said: “We have watched some other sports, I love to go and watch how other football teams work, but when you have been in the game a long time – different people work in different ways – but there is an element of similarity. But I just love picking the brains of other sports. I shouldn’t say this as the Millwall manager, but I’m a big UFC fan.”
“You study training methods, you study how people work, you study methodology and how people see things. Just in terms of how people master a skill. When we were at Derby we had the opportunity to meet Dave Brailsford, again, just picking peoples brains on how they work, how do they become elite. It is interesting to do, but I have watched a lots of different football, I have been out to Germany a few times.
“I just went to events and spoke to people there and just studied and met one or two people. Just in terms of training – you have to master skills and master movements that have to be automatic under pressure, if you’re in the octagon then you’re one-on-one with someone then you have to know you haven’t got time to react.
“I don’t want to get too technical because I’m going to look like an absolute idiot, but it’s how they train, the diet, the commitment and the sacrifices that those people make in training camps to be elite.”
IMAGES BY BRIAN TONKS