BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Niino Adom-Malaki has a dream senior debut in mind and it revolves around The Den.
The left-sided defender, 19, has made a handful of appearances on the Millwall bench this season – the first of those for the 3-0 home loss to Leeds United.
One of new head coach Joe Edwards’ key tasks is to help the club’s youngsters develop and produce at senior level – which should be good news for Adom-Malaki, who signed a long-term contract last month.
The former Harris Academy Tottenham student signed for the Lions in January 2021.
Adom-Malaki had trials with Spurs and Norwich City around the time he left primary school.
He is the 45th player to come through the Kinetic Academy programme to sign for a professional club.
“I played a few matches for Tottenham and then the rest was just training,” said Adom-Malaki, who is an Arsenal fan and lives right next to Emirates Stadium.
“It was a good experience but being told you’re not getting in is heartbreaking. But we move and keep on pushing.”
Adom-Malaki, who grew up in Camden before moving to Islington at 17, has used the progression of his peers at Millwall as a driving force.
“I’d never been in an academy before and so coming into the system was new to me,” he said. “Seeing these professional players around me has helped a lot. Seeing players succeed just drives me more, to get to where I want to be.
“For example, when I played for the U18s a few of the boys would go with the U23s. It would show me what I needed to work towards to be with the U23s.
“Once I started doing that then I was with the U23s. Then I would look at my team-mate Romain Esse. I played with him at U18s and U23s and now he is with the first-team – that’s where I need to be.”
Adom-Malaki has sampled the senior set-up as an unused substitute. He barely pauses when asked for the ground which has generated the best atmosphere.
“No-one beats Millwall so far. The fan love is just amazing. Even when I’m warming up and for people to recognise me is a dream come true.
“It’s what I’ve played for since I was a kid – it’s not even about hearing my name in the stands.”
So what is key to the next stage of his progression?
“Don’t overthink,” said Adom-Malaki. “Just keep focused, listen and take advice. Even when people are getting on to you then don’t take it as criticism – take it as they are helping you. Ask a lot of questions – because questions get you far.
“After a game I will ask a coach: ‘How did I play and how can I improve?’ It shows what you can do better in your game.”
Adom-Malaki was part of Kevin Nugent’s side that won the Professional Development League national title in May.
Chin Okoli headed an extra-time winner against Sheffield United in front of a home crowd of 2,076.
“Everything came together – the team, coaches and the fans,” said Adom-Malaki. “I hadn’t played in a stadium with atmosphere before. It was just a great night.
“We got two medals because we won our league and the play-offs. They are both in my room.”
Adom-Malaki’s short-term goal is to tick off a first-team appearance.
Many prospects cite their eventual target as the Premier League.
But the young Lion said: “Whatever team I’m at it is my dream to play in front of the fans and my family. I owe it to my family. They have been a big part of my career. It’s what I want to be doing.”
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