Despite Millwall’s late Championship Play-Off push, if the Lions want to bridge the gap to the top six next season, a huge summer transfer window awaits.
Since joining the club in 2019, manager Gary Rowett has been able to slowly bolster his squad and build a side in his image, fitting his preferred 5-2-3 system.
However, this summer will see the Lions boss face his first rebuild at SE16, with seven first-team players confirmed as leaving and two more with uncertain futures.
Benik Afobe, Oli Burke, Luke Freeman, Sheyi Ojo and Daniel Ballard have all returned to their parent clubs while club captain Alex Pearce and the mercurial Connor Mahoney have been released.
Meanwhile, Maikel Kieftenbeld and Jed Wallace have been offered new contracts – although both their futures remain in doubt.
The departures mean Millwall currently have just 14 players who played regularly last season, leaving the Lions extremely short all over the pitch.
For instance, Tom Bradshaw is the side’s only striker with Tyler Burey and Mason Bennett the only other attacking options. With Pearce and Ballard leaving, the defence is starting to look threadbare as only Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace remain at centre-back.
Arguably Millwall need competition for places and, more importantly, depth in every position on the pitch with a spate of injuries over the last two seasons hindering their league progress.
Priority number one for Rowett and his staff will be replacing the 18 goals and 15 assists last year provided by Afobe and, should he reject his new deal, Jed Wallace.
Step one seems obvious – bring Afobe back with the 29-year-old set to be made available by Stoke City if a sensible fee can be agreed.
Replacing Jed Wallace is a much bigger task – the forward having a hand in over a third of Millwall’s goals last season and, over the past few years the side has struggled to score without him.
Pressure will be on young Burey to step up to be the next bright spark in the Lions squad, but he will need assistance. Ideally the Lions need two or three players to replace Wallace – players who can chip in consistently, while not breaking the bank.
One player who may be able to bolster the front line is Isaac Olaofe, who is set to have a chance to impress in pre-season.
Olaofe continued to turn heads this season after a second successful spell at Sutton United saw him score eight goals as the Amber Army fell just short of the League Two Play-Offs.
Another returning youngster who may be able to offer depth to Millwall’s backline next season is centre-back Alex Mitchell – despite the 20-year-old playing 26 times in an underwhelming season for the O’s.
Either way, it is unlikely the Lions will be able to go out and spend big which will see them out of the running to re-sign Daniel Ballard who looks set to be sold by Arsenal this summer. At just 20-years-old and, with an impressive Championship campaign under his belt, a Premier League move may be more likely.
Millwall should learn lessons from the likes of Huddersfield and Luton, who cleverly brought in cheap and free players over the last few windows to fit their style of play and mount Play-Off worthy campaigns.
However, Mahoney’s departure on a free this summer should serve as a reminder to the club that recruitment mistakes can be costly and Millwall cannot afford too many wasted fees, so any money spent needs to provide value.
The club have a big job on their hands in reinforcing Rowett’s squad with the quality required to maintain an upward trajectory.
While depth is desperately needed, the attacking deficiencies and lack of creativity that have proved costly for some time still need addressing.
If Millwall are to keep up with the big spenders in the Championship, this summer window could prove to be make or break for next season.