To sign, or not to sign?

There have been recent talks on players who Millwall currently have on loan for the Championship 2021/22 season, and the likelihood of whether or not they are realistic targets for the South London Club. Although there is a division in the fan base at the moment whether or not it would be good if these players were signed on the dotted line on extended deals, it can be agreed that those who have been brought in have added something that our contracted squad was lacking, and compared to last season’s loan signings, they have to be considered successful business by Gary Rowett. But, given the choice, who would you give a 2-3 year deal to and which player would you personally drive back to their parent club at the end of the season? For this article, we have a look at the players who may, or may not, be seen a lot more in Zampa Road.


 

Benik Afobe – on loan from Stoke City


Benik Afobe is a player who has seen it all in the second tier of English football. A player with proven ability at this level, the former Arsenal trainee has scored goals in the Championship over a number of years with the likes of Huddersfield Town, Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. He was also a valuable part of the league-winning Wolverhampton Wanderers team of the 2017/18 campaign, who were so successful and only a single point short of reaching the 100 mark over 46 games. Since arriving at Millwall for a second spell, Afobe has found the back of the net a number of times in pre-season and the league, including the winner in a 1-0 home win over Reading, and has featured for the club 15 times so far.


Strengths – Afobe is a powerful player when he has the ball, and can hold off players well and wait for other players to catch up with play to build attacks. When Afobe has the ball at his feet in the penalty area or just outside the 18-yard box, he is always looking at attacking first and trying to have a shot on target. The final third is an area Millwall have struggled with over the years with successive managers, and given the correct service and passes that his runs and intelligence suggests, Afobe could be in double figures by the end of the season.


Weaknesses – Although Afobe does score goals, his current return at Millwall is only three goals in 15 games. There is a debate as to whether that’s because The Lions are not playing the game to his individual strengths, but Afobe seems to struggle to be a goal scoring threat when the ball is played high at him and he is asked to bring the ball down from the air – something that regular substitute Matt Smith can do with relative ease. Also, by no means past his prime or ancient in the eyes of society, Afobe is in his late 20’s, so any contract of length will mean Millwall will be signing a player who may not have the pace and speed he did when he was younger.


Should he be offered a deal? – I personally think a player like Benik Afobe is what Millwall will need in their squad, and I would sign him permanently. For years, Millwall fans have been mentioning players who can get you double figures in front of goal, and if Afobe stays fit and is played correctly, there is no reason why it cannot be him that gets the goals we need. He would also be a good influence on younger players who come through the system and return from loan.



Dan Ballard – on loan from Arsenal


What can be said about Dan Ballard that hasn’t been said already? He has settled into the Millwall squad like he has been in for years, is a contender for Man of the Match in the majority of the fixtures he has played so far and his partnership at the back with Shaun Hutchinson and Jake Cooper has made Millwall very hard to break down at the back. Interestingly, with the latter’s form in question this season, it has been the 22-year-old who has been the one who has been more confident and secure when Hutchinson has been absent from the side, and when fans are asking for Millwall to return to a back four, it is Ballard’s name that has been mentioned as the partner for Shaun Hutchinson and not Jake Cooper’s.


Strengths – Ballard is an excellent defender, there is absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever. He is calm and composed on the ball, can get involved and stuck in if needed, and he also has the ability to play the ball out from the back and keep possession, which is certainly better than long ball football that some defenders play and Millwall get accused of every season. Strong in the air, Ballard also has a goal for The Lions already this season, and has been picked by Northern Ireland at international level.


Weaknesses – Very little at the moment from what we see, although there is a conversation to his leadership skills. He is an excellent player who has done well and performed personally when Shaun Hutchinson is out through injury, but the back line does look shaky overall without Hutch, and is Ballard the one who can grab the back line by the scruff of the neck and pull it together as a unit? Time will tell, and this may be a slightly harsh criticism as he is only 22 years of age.


Should he be offered a deal? – Absolutely 100% and at Ballard’s age, Millwall should tie him down to a multi-year deal if we had the finances. But then financing deals for international players with bag loads of potential from a club like Arsenal is where we could struggle…



Oluwaseyi (Sheyi) Ojo – on loan from Liverpool


Sheyi Ojo was signed for Millwall at the end of the 2021/22 summer transfer window and there were a few at The Den who were rubbing their heads as to who he was or what he could bring to the side. A player with talent, having performed well at Cardiff in the 2020/21 season when again on loan from Liverpool, Ojo is a player who The Lions have been looking for and have had trouble with that position over the years – a left winger. Brought in to compliment the wide and attacking play of Jed Wallace on the right hand side, Ojo has featured nine times already in this campaign for Millwall and has become a key member of the squad overall whether starting in the match day eleven, or featuring from the bench.


Strengths – Quick and skillful with the ball at his feet, Ojo is a player who has great crossing ability and always seems to whip in dangerous crosses that have led to goals, with the fantastic low cross for Tom Bradshaw to get on the end of in the 2-1 victory over Stoke City being a great example. Ojo can also play behind the main forward if needed, and has been used there a few times by Rowett this season, so he can fill into positions and do well if there is an injury crisis at the club.


Weaknesses – It’s a conundrum with Sheyi Ojo, as although he has plenty of ability, he does not seem to be given much of a run in the team. The majority of his time at the club has seen him start and not complete a full 90 minutes, or he comes onto the field of play from the bench. Could this suggest that the player does not have a cemented position in the first team, or is his style of play not what Gary Rowett is after?


Should he be offered a deal? – On what we are seeing at the moment, the jury is out on whether to given Ojo a permanent deal at The Den. He clearly has ability and a skill that not many at Millwall possess, but his lack of game time is concerning and perhaps a long term contract may not be in the club’s interest.

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