Millwall’s January transfer window: Luke Freeman’s late arrival offers solace during a frustrating month

4 min

Coming into the January transfer window, Millwall were at a crossroads – whether to stick or twist in their hunt for a Championship Play-Off place.

And despite their best efforts, including the last gasp loan signing of Luke Freeman from Sheffield United, the Lions may not have done enough to bolster their top six aspirations.

The deadline day move for Freeman arguably salvaged what was shaping up to be a disappointing window as the club struggled throughout to sign, in the words of manager Gary Rowett, “young players…for the long-term.”

Freeman fits the bill for the creative playmaker that has been desperately lacking for a number of seasons now but with only 141 minutes of league football this year, he will need to get up to speed before making his mark on the side.

Meanwhile, injuries to key attackers Tom Bradshaw and Sheyi Ojo also shifted Millwall’s priorities from the long term to the short term. 

Oliver Burke, the 24-year-old also on loan from Sheffield United, is another player to fill a gap but also the possibility to become a long-term asset if he can live up to the potential he showed when breaking through at Nottingham Forest.

Burke’s signing felt somewhat like a marriage of convenience, a player in need of game time joining a club with an injury crisis but the move could prove to be a perfect fit partnership all round.

Since his £13m move to RB Leipzig in 2016, Burke has bounced around and struggled for regular game time, only amassing three goals and seven assists in over 4,000 minutes at five clubs.

Much like Freeman, Burke will need time to gain fitness and find his feet but enters The Den in the hope of a fresh start with the Lions faithful hoping he can buy into the underdog spirit personified by the culture of the club.

Millwall fans will also undoubtedly be relieved the club managed to retain the services of Jed Wallace, despite offers from Nottingham Forest.

The Lions’ talisman is out of contract in the summer and his future is still unclear but losing him to a divisional rival may have signalled the end of Millwall’s ambitions this season.

Instead the saga rumbles on and should Wallace join another Championship side in the summer, some might ask if the club should have taken the money instead.

Arguably, this window is more notable for the outgoings as three contracts cancelled gave the impression Millwall are freeing up the wage bill in preparation for what could be a busy summer.

READ MORE: Millwall’s recruitment rut proves they need to be bolder in the transfer market

Despite the current lack of attacking depth due to injuries, the club were happy to release Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Matt Smith as both players dropped down the leagues in search of game time.

Bodvarsson never clicked at Millwall, scoring only five times in 69 appearances after arriving for £750k from Reading in 2019. 

He’ll be remembered as one of the worst signings in recent memory, not just for the lack of goals but also for the fee the club paid.

Matt Smith will be remembered more fondly having scored some memorable goals in his first season but this year he’s found minutes harder to come by. 

At 32 years-old, the target man’s best years are behind him and he began to look less impactful as time went on.

Rowett has explained his desire to change Millwall’s recruitment approach, targeting ‘young, mobile, up-and-coming strikers’, rather than the aging target men that have become all too familiar at The Den.

The final departure tugged at the heartstrings of the fanbase, as Ben Thompson was released and allowed to team up with Lions legend Neil Harris at Gillingham.

Thompson was Millwall’s hottest prospect under Harris, fondly remembered for his impact returning from loan at Portsmouth in 2019 and scoring four in 13 games to keep the Lions in the Championship.

However, since Harris’ departure, Thompson has struggled to impress Rowett and, set back by injury and lack of chances to impress, it became clear he didn’t have a future at the club.

Ultimately, this January window feels like a bit of a stop-gap for the Lions with the new arrivals doing a job temporarily with the intention clearly to build for the future. 

Finances proved to be the major issue in getting deals done this time out but if the club can muster up some cash in the next few months, then it looks like Millwall could have a busy summer ahead.

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