BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jed Wallace has spoken about how Neil Harris gave him back his confidence – with the Millwall attacker coming up against his former boss tomorrow afternoon.
Harris is in charge of Cardiff City and heads back to The Den for the first time since he quit in October 2019.
Wallace had two loan stays with the Lions – the first of those in 2016 between January and March before winning promotion from League One the following year. He signed a permanent deal in June 2017.
“I was at Wolves and for the first time in my career I really lost my confidence,” said Wallace, 26.
“When things aren’t going well you feel so insecure. I went from a real hot prospect at Portsmouth to where it didn’t work out.
“I was thinking ‘what am I going to do – who is going to want me?’. My agent told me to calm down, that I hadn’t turned into a bad player in six weeks. We looked at a League One table and he asked where I wanted to go, because he felt I could probably go to most of the ones I wanted.
“Straight away you look at the big clubs there – Sheffield United and Millwall. I was thinking ‘I’m three hours away from home and not having a great time’. I was still only 20 and Millwall seemed a good idea as I could live back home with mum and dad.
“I spoke to Ben Thatcher, who is a family friend and he knew Neil. Neil then got straight on the phone to my agent.
“It’s no coincidence that players who had difficult times did well under him like myself, Coops [Jake Cooper], Mahlon [Romeo], Sav [George Saville] and Hutch [Shaun Hutchinson]. You can just feel that genuine belief in you straight away.
“You came into the environment that Chopper created and you loved it. You wanted to come back. That’s why so many players who came on loan signed for Millwall.
“The man, for me, is a Millwall icon – as a player and as a manager. I was lucky to play for him.
“He is one of the most highly-thought of managers. There are always going to be players who talk bad – mostly through bitterness of their own circumstance. But Neil is one who there are very few players, whether they are in or out of the team, who will have a bad word to say. We all loved and respected him. That showed over the four years – how much success we had.
“The job he did at Millwall was ridiculously under-rated, when you break it down. They had just been relegated from the Championship, then you get the euphoria of getting to the play-off final – but losing. Then you get promoted.
“I don’t know if it’s because he was only at Millwall that it went under the radar. But you see these more stylish coaches who do half the job that Chopper did and they are the best thing since sliced bread.
“He fully deserved a go at a so-called bigger club in Cardiff. There is going to be a lot said this season about who can keep their best players fit. If Cardiff do that and we finish above them then I think we’ll be right where we want to be, which is that top six.”
Millwall were eighth in their first season back in England’s second tier – a position they replicated under Gary Rowett last season. First time around the likes of Wallace, George Saville and Cooper were leading lights as a play-off push – so unlikely before Christmas – was only knocked off course by a relentless Fulham.
“He [Harris] let you do what you’re good at,” said Wallace. “We all know it was more of a direct style of play but then you had someone like Willo [Shaun Williams] who was naturally the best footballer at the club. He always let Willo do what he wanted to do. Someone like Thommo [Ben Thompson], his best attribute isn’t getting the ball deep and playing passes – his best attribute is winning headers and tackles plus getting in the box.
“Everyone was played to their complete and utter strengths.
“The second time I came on loan I did okay when we got promoted. He could’ve easily gone and signed someone who was 27 or 28 and had played in the Championship before. But he didn’t.
“He gave me his word that if we got promoted he would sign me – and he was on the phone the day after the play-off final trying to make it happen. As a footballer, you don’t forget things like that. When people show loyalty to you it makes you want to give loyalty back.
“You can see the relationship he had with Thommo after what he went through [losing his brother]. To a lot of the lads he was a father figure.”
Wallace had played every minute for Millwall until being replaced in the closing stages at Sheffield Wednesday, the final action before the shutdown for international football. He had a sickness bug before the match, but added: “I came off because I wasn’t playing very well. I can’t play well every week, especially after eight games in four weeks.
“It probably was the right decision. You can count on one or two fingers how many things the gaffer has got wrong since he’s been in the building. He knows what is right for the team and for me.
“I don’t think anyone individually has got going yet in an attacking sense, or that we’ve played great. We played very well against Preston, Brentford, Luton and the second half at Wycombe. But it’s still been the best start a Millwall team has had at this level in years. That’s a good sign.
“As long as the manager is at the club and our so-called more important players stay fit, I don’t see how we can’t keep improving.”
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