The Monday Profile: Matt Mills
Given that Leicester shipped six and four goals against Portsmouth and Norwich respectively prior to Sven’s appointment last season, it’s perhaps no surprise that the Swede has since ring fenced much of his not inconsiderable budget for shoring up the Foxes’ defence.
Sol Bamba, Ben Mee, Kyle Naughton and Patrick van Aanholt were each brought in by Eriksson last term as Leicester’s new owners threw money at an eleventh hour promotion pop, and transfer activity has continued to focus on the back four this summer. First, Lee Peltier, Huddersfield’s versatile full-back, was secured before Kasper Schmeichel turned the world upside down by ditching West Yorkshire for the East Midlands. The impossible to love Sean St Ledger followed those two last week for £2.8m less than Middlesbrough had been willing to pay for The Mouth not so long ago, and the jigsaw is now looking all but complete with the marquee signing of Matt Mills.
Joining for a potentially record breaking fee, this move appears to be the next in a series of upwardly mobile steps for Mills. Following unremarkable spells here and there with no less than five different clubs, Mills’ career trajectory has been steadily ascending since joining Doncaster on loan during their 2007-08 League 1 campaign. Part of a squad that brought cheer to supporters far and wide after Rovers advanced to the Championship at the expense of Leeds, the Swindon-born stopper knew he was on to a good thing with Sean O’Driscoll and impressed this writer at the time by actively encouraging a permanent move to the Keepmoat, far away from the comfort of Manchester City’s second string.
It didn’t take Doncaster’s then record signing long to gain a reputation in the second tier. Big and powerful, Mills’ forceful approach is allied with a certain composure and effortlessness that inspires confidence in those around him and he was at the heart of one of the most efficient and devastating displays against my side in years towards the end of Rovers’ first Championship season.
I wasn’t the only one to notice, and by the beginning of the next season Mills has moved on, joining ‘Brendan’s Babes’ at Reading for a significantly increased initial fee of £1.5m. Favouring a style of play where comfort on the ball and keeping possession were paramount, new manager Brendan Rodgers heralded the signing, speaking up Mills’ ability to play a ball, but both were to suffer from a slow start and in truth Mills only really emerged towards the end of his debut season in Berkshire by which time Rodgers was long gone.
Mills’ progress wasn’t helped by an unsavoury one-fingered gesture in a home game against QPR in March that same season following a couple of misplaced Hollywood passes which went down like a balloon of lead in certain sections. It’s fair to say that his inflated price-tag may have gone to everyone’s’ head, not least his own, but last season was a different story with Mills leading like a trooper from the back in a year that was one of Royals’ most successful ever. Stand-out highlights included a rampaging personal display at his new employers last August, as well as exemplary performances in the Cup win at Everton and the narrow defeat against Man City in the same competition.
2010-11 didn’t end as it might have for Mills and Reading despite a dramatic intervention from our subject, but both parties will be reasonably contented with this transfer. While the move fits in with Reading’s recruitment and selling-on strategy which has seen the likes of Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt, and Gylfi Sigurðsson yield a small fortune for the side, Mills joins a club that, in his own words, are setting their sights a little higher.
Of course, Mills might have been more patient by holding out for Wolves and Stoke, who were seemingly trying to chip away at the fee the Royals were hoping for but he joins a club that is now Premier League in all but name. Having apparently signed Mills on an eye-watering £23k per week deal, the Foxes will be vying with West Ham for the bookies’ favourite tag and even missing out on Craig Mackail-Smith to those south coast upstarts hasn’t dampened spirits in Leicestershire. Neil Danns and David Nugent, useful players both, have also been signed in recent weeks and with Tsepo Masilela and Nicky Maynard expected to follow, this Foxes side looks set to be a tough proposition. Friendlies have been lined up against Mallorca, Valencia and Real Madrid over the next three weeks and the Walker’s rebranding as the King Power Stadium, as well as their new Chief Executive’s talk of optimizing potential revenue areas and working with ‘Legacy Partners’ is symbolic of a club that is experiencing rapid change. Looking ahead, Leicester open at Coventry before facing a trip to Rotherham in the League Cup; reminding all of their current status, time will tell whether they are able to buy a Golden Ticket, but they’ve a way to go yet.