Why are Leicester City allowing Matt Mills to move on loan to Leeds United?

So Leicester City defender Matt Mills might be off to Leeds United on loan for the remainder of the current season. Given that Mills had a price tag of around £4.5million on his head when moving from Reading in the summer, why is there the possibility that he will be shifted out so soon?

When Mills arrived in the East Midlands in early July, he came with a reputation of being one of the best defenders outside of the Premier League. However, his transfer also brought cautionary tales of a hot-headed ego from Reading supporters – many of whom felt he was already overrated and certainly overpriced. Leicester fans have seen both sides of the story over the past seven months. But perhaps the most prominent image during that time is not of a strong, committed defender making crucial blocks, dominant headed clearances and even the odd raking long-ball assist, although all of these have been present.

Instead, it’s the sight of Mills walking. Whether it be trudging off the pitch at St Andrew’s or the KC Stadium having been shown a straight red card or leading his team back towards the halfway line having conceded a goal, both have happened too often. Of the 30 games Mills has played for Leicester this season, they have lost seven (23%). Of the eight he has missed, they have lost four (50%).

Yet three of those four defeats – including the catastrophic 3-0 capitulation at home to Millwall, a result which saw Sven-Goran Eriksson sacked – came when he was unavailable through suspension for those costly sending-offs at Birmingham and Hull. The other loss took place early in the season when Bristol City claimed a rare 2-1 win on the road, Mills having been dropped by Eriksson after a shaky display in another 2-1 home defeat to his former club Reading.

On paper, the return of Nigel Pearson seemed to suit Mills, a committed no-nonsense defender in the Pearson mould, who appeared a more likely candidate to impress his new manager than fellow centre-backs Sean St Ledger and Sol Bamba.

In the past two full seasons, one apiece at Leicester and Hull, Pearson has relied heavily on three centre-backs – Wayne Brown, Jack Hobbs and James Chester. None are quite like Bamba and some assumed that Pearson would not take kindly to the Ivorian’s rampages out of defence. Bamba may have toned these down since Eriksson’s departure but his long spell of international duty at the African Cup of Nations gave St Ledger the chance to stake his claim. The Irish international was on the verge of a switch to Ipswich, before a late U-turn which has since seen him established as the number one pick at the heart of the defence. Ahead of Bamba’s return, attention turned to Mills – particularly when Leicester bought a fourth centre-back in January.

Wes Morgan’s arrival from Nottingham Forest signalled a statement of intent from Pearson. Four into two doesn’t go and St Ledger’s transformation from zero to hero meant it looked like curtains for either Bamba or Mills. The smart money was on the former, but now it looks as though the latter is instead on his way. With Morgan’s magnificent performance at Derby County on Thursday fresh in the mind following a superb FA Cup victory at Norwich City the previous weekend – both achieved without Mills – a picture began to emerge of Pearson’s willingness to sacrifice his most expensive defender.

It is also worth mentioning that Mills has been Leicester’s captain this season. Given that they have been unable to win from a losing position in the league and have not registered back-to-back Championship wins either, there are certainly facts which support the general opinion that there has been a lack of cohesive leadership within the team.

Nevertheless, Mills would certainly come in handy for Leeds. At this stage last season, Leicester had conceded 48 goals in 32 league games and Leeds 49. Fast forward twelve months and the Yorkshire club’s defensive record is strikingly similar – they have shipped 48 goals in 32 league games, but Leicester have conceded just 37. Of course, there is more to these statistics than the presence of Mills alone – most notably, Kasper Schmeichel has arguably been Leicester’s best player so far this season having made the move from Elland Road in the summer – yet Neil Warnock will feel that Mills is exactly the kind of dominant figure his back four needs.

That it looks likely that Pearson will allow such a potentially useful player to turn out for another side in the top half of the division will bring a severe sense of deja vu to most Leicester fans. In many ways, the situation mirrors that of DJ Campbell in the 2009/10 season. Campbell, unfancied by Pearson for a long period of time, was permitted to move on loan to Blackpool and then scored a series of vital goals to help the Tangerines into the Premier League. Blackpool’s current Championship position (7th) still owes much to that late burst of form two years ago which Campbell did so much to aid, although it has been rumoured that Pearson thought he was loaning the striker to Derby rather than a side in such direct league competition. Some think this was a factor in Pearson fleeing to Hull just months later.

Those coveted four lottery tickets towards the top of the Championship table are again the focus for a club intent on promotion. Ahead of Saturday’s fixtures, the gap between Middlesbrough in 6th and Leicester in 12th is eight points. Between the two clubs, Blackpool are just one of the sides Leicester must overhaul if they are to mount an unlikely late play-off bid. Two others are Pearson’s former club Hull and a Leeds side boosted by the arrival of Neil Warnock and possibly also soon to benefit from a man recently seen as one of the best defenders in the division. Allowing Mills to move represents another big call for a manager who knows exactly how it feels to be haunted by such a decision.

A brief note: Anyone who follows @the72football on Twitter will know the reason for the lack of posts recently. The situation has improved a lot over the past few weeks but there is still a bit of a way to go. There will be fewer posts in future (aiming for quality over quantity as a new mantra) but I thought it was worth dipping my toe back in the water to see how it felt. I have also taken on a new co-editor to help things along. Huge thanks again for all your kind messages.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Barry
    February 26, 2012

    ….because he’s not very good.

  2. Ultra_Fox
    February 27, 2012

    Mills clearly is a defender of some quality. He showed that during the closing months of last season, when he led Reading to and at Wembley. Two Premier clubs (Wolves and Stoke) expressed interest in signing him – hence his high transfer fee and accompanying salary.

    But that quality has not been witnessed anywhere near enough during his time in a blue shirt. The tone was set by a dismal home debut (ironically at home to Reading) which actually saw him dropped for the next game. Although form seemed to have improved in recent weeks, with Mills being particularly impressive in wins over Southampton and Cardiff, a setback at Watford provided the catalyst for the collapse in relations between the manager and captain.

    Neil Warnock would like nothing more than to succeed where two successive City managers have failed, and turn Mills into a consistent, effective leader. Should he do so, and secure a place for Leeds in the top six, serious questions would be asked about Nigel Pearson’s judgement and powers of motivation.

    There is a distinct feeling of deja vu among some sections of the Foxes fanbase. A year ago, a similarly out-of-sorts Jack Hobbs was allowed to join Hull by the then manager, departing for a fraction of the fee subsequently expended on Mills. Hobbs recaptured his form and now leads a side with the best defensive record in the division. Hull’s gain was definitely Leicester’s loss.

    Meanwhile the leadership issues that the purchase of Mills was intended to resolve still continue at the KP Stadium. Although stand-in skipper Richie Wellens led the side well at Norwich, his overall record with the armband is far from blemish-free. With a nine-game schedule during March likely to place heavy physical demands on a 32-year-old player who has already acknowledged ongoing fitness issues, it is eminently possible that City could shortly be forced into yet another change in captain.

    Leicester’s season to date has been more soap-opera than success. It would appear there are still a few more episodes left to run.

  3. Ben
    February 27, 2012

    Seems like a really strange state of affairs, I can’t help but think something went on behind the scenes, and Mr. Pearson has stayed mighty defensive/quiet…


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