BY RICHARD CAWLEY
When it comes to transfers, players are often described as long-term targets. But in the case of Matt Smith, he came into the Millwall crosshairs just under five years ago.
Current Lions boss Neil Harris has wanted the Birmingham-born striker in each of the last three windows.
And he finally got his man this week as Smith, 30, signed for an undisclosed fee from QPR.
It was Ian Holloway, the previous incumbent in the managerial hotseat of the SE16 outfit, who had targeted Smith in the summer of 2014.
“I was aware of that interest,” said the Den new boy. “It was quite early in the off-season and I was looking to renegotiate a contract at Leeds, which I did. I think that ruled out Millwall then.
“But it was a craziness at the time under Massimo Cellino. I signed a three-year contract and two weeks later got told I was going to be sold. It summed up that era at Leeds.
“There were two weeks to go until the deadline and the owner wanted to sell me, I had no idea at the time what the reason was. All I knew was that my name was on a whiteboard in David Hockaday’s office.
“Fulham wanted to reunite me with Ross McCormack, because we had done very well the season before. I was very settled at Leeds at the time but I ended up going.”
Millwall tried to do a loan deal for Smith this January but suffered frustration again.
“I had a couple of bits of interest but QPR at the time were not willing to sanction any loans,” said the forward. “I knew it would have to be permanent. That was why I didn’t end up going anywhere then.
“Luckily enough things turned a bit for me at QPR. In the first half of the season I wasn’t really featuring but I got back in the side in February, a little bit by default at the beginning, and got four goals in four starts. So I managed to salvage some semblance of a good second half of the season.
“I got seven goals. In January I was chomping at the bit to play and it just wasn’t happening. It was a case of just staying there and fighting for my place.”
Smith aired some of his frustration early in 2019, talking about the difficulties of only getting late sub appearances and described the west London side’s tactics as “not being set up for me to excel.”
Asked if it was fair to say QPR did not play to his strengths last season, he told the South London Press: “That’s very fair to say.
“Particularly in the Holloway era at QPR I thought it was a team I was able to flourish in. There were a lot of crosses into the box and we mixed our game well between a passing style and a direct style.
“One thing I’ll always give Ian Holloway credit for was wanting to play effective football and I did benefit from that.
“Pretty much from the outset of last season we tried to be more of a counter-attacking side and that maybe didn’t suit my strengths. I’m not blessed with pace.”
That won’t be a problem at Millwall. Not only is Smith working with a manager who has expended time and energy into signing him, but the Lions have been an excellent side from dead-ball deliveries.
Much of their success has come from having a targetman-type – with Steve Morison performing the role so well in latter years.
Smith, an eloquent talker, has size and power in abundance.
He said: “At the end of the day I am six-foot six and 95 kilos – so I know I’m not going to be the most mobile of the 22 lads on the pitch.
“But I do possess other strengths. If I am played into I can be a really effective weapon. Half the battle is knowing what you are good at and focusing on that.
“I look to be a platform for the team, hold the ball up, win physical battles in both boxes, create assists for others and score goals.
“I know I can’t necessarily play off the shoulder or run the channels but what I lack there I make up for in work-rate, endeavour and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’d like to think I do get some sort of recognition for that. I don’t know many pacey six-foot six strikers.
“I said it in my first interview with the club when I signed that to be so wanted by a manager is every players’ dream. It has a knock-on effect that it naturally breeds confidence.
“In my meeting with the gaffer he highlighted everything he wanted to get out of me and bring to the team.
“It was a really good conversation and really secured in my mind that I was going to the right place. The manager is someone who I always had a helluva lot of respect for when I was looking in from the outside.
“I always thought he seemed a top, top guy and it was confirmed when I met him. I’m sure he’ll get the best out of me.”
The planned influx of attackers this summer – and Tom Bradshaw feels like a fresh addition after suffering a major knee injury last season so early in his Lions career – need to fill the substantial boots of Lee Gregory and Steve Morison.
“I played with Moro for a short while at Leeds and I know what qualities he brings to the side,” said Smith. “He is a real leader and a legend in his own right at Millwall.
“He will be a big miss.
“It’s going to be a new-look side. The manager mentioned to me that it is a bit of a rebuild and it is about getting the right characters and players through the door.
“If that can be done early enough in pre-season it gives an opportunity for us to gel.
“I’m over 30 now and I’m one of the senior pros. I’m not a shouter or a screamer. I like to lead by example and provide an honest platform for the side on a game day.”