Hayden Muller has had an early taste of Championship football – and it’s only made him more determined for more.
The Croydon-based defender only turned 18 in February and made his league debut for Millwall on the final day of last season, a 4-1 victory over Huddersfield Town.
Muller has been trained with the senior squad since the Lions reported back after lockdown and he also got some minutes last week in the EFL Cup tie against Burnley.
It all points to a big future for the teenager, who had trials with Crystal Palace and Charlton before joining Millwall at the age of 12.
Muller was playing in central midfield from Bromley District when he came to the Lions’ attention. He was playing his club football at the time for Selsdon Lions, who folded and then formed as one of Whyteleafe’s junior teams.
“Anthony Gale was my U13 manager at Millwall at that time and my trial was about 12 weeks,” recalls the young centre-back.
“Because they had three or four players in that position already he wanted to make me prove I was really good enough.
“So I ended up trialling a little longer, it was training twice a week and then a game on a Saturday.
“Anthony told me they were going to sign me about 10 minutes before we kicked off an away game at Southampton. It was unreal, because the year before that I’d been on trial at Palace and Charlton and they’d both said no.
“I’d trialled with Fulham and also been on a Chelsea summer camp. Palace said they really liked me but wanted me to come back six months down the line – because they had too many defenders. With Charlton it was just that I wasn’t good enough at the time.”
The last young central defender to come through the ranks was Sid Nelson, now at Tranmere Rovers.
The Lewisham man was handed his debut at 18 and was also briefly handed the captaincy by then Lions boss Ian Holloway.
“When I was in the U13 side Sid took a training sessions,” said Muller. “I remember it because of the way he came across. A couple of years later he made his debut.
“It really stood out for me.
“In terms of coaches I’ve worked under, I’d give a shout out to Murray Jones. He was my U15 boss and I really liked the way he coached me. He taught me a lot.”
Muller caught the eye of Rowett, who has also given him minutes in pre-season friendlies.
“Since we started back training in August I’ve been training with the first-team every day.
“When we have a U23 game I train with them the day before just to work a bit on shape and set-pieces. But for 90 per cent of the time I’ve been with the first-team.
“When I first trained with them at the end of May it was quite scary but after a couple of weeks you just get used to it. Like anything you just adjust to the level and they become friends.
“When we came back after lockdown I spoke to the U23 manager Nuge [Kevin Nugent] and he told me the gaffer wanted me to go and train with them to see how I do. I didn’t know it would be on a permanent basis. The gaffer has liked me and given me my chance since then.”
Muller was a 61st-minute replacement for James Brown in July as he kicked off with a victory against the Terriers.
“That was unreal – but it would have been so much better with fans there,” he said. “My family were watching on iFollow and were absolutely buzzing.
“Since you are a child you dream of coming on in a massive stadium in front of thousands of fans when you make your debut – but that will come and it will be something else.
“I had an idea I’d be coming on against Burnley after about 60 minutes, I knew Mahlon [Romeo] wasn’t up to full fitness yet. I was well-prepared but the game is still so much quicker than I’m used to at U18 or U23 level.
“At the start of the season I set myself a goal of playing between five to 10 games in the first team. I want to set a good first impression to the gaffer and show I’m capable of playing at that type of level.
“He told me he likes my ability on the ball and that it is up there with the best defenders he has – that it’s hard to chuck me in to play centre-back. It’s rare for an U18 to be playing in the Championship, or any level.
“I’ll keep trying to impress and hopefully I’ll get a bit more of a taste after Christmas. There is the FA Cup and there are a lot of games at that time of the year.”
It’s not easy to break into one of the meanest backlines in the second tier.
“That’s the other thing – Cooper, Hutch and Pearcey are all top-drawer centre-backs,” said Muller. “But I can learn off them as well.
“They are well-balanced and their success is also down to communication and leadership. Coops is the most physical of the lot – he’s massive, fast and strong. Pearcey has the best leadership. Hutch is really well-rounded – good on the ball, good one on one and he can head it.
“They complement each other a lot.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD AND BRIAN TONKS
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