Finishing their last few seasons in and around the playoff picture before just falling away, Gary Rowett’s Millwall fell six points shy of that final playoff spot in the Championship last campaign — the Bermondsey-based club are certainly on the up after previous relegation near misses and stints in League One.
Heroic players from those recent success stories have departed The Lions however, Jed Wallace the one that will have stung the most – the former Portsmouth midfielder turning into a club icon at The Den, a reliable and hard-working figure for The Lions with an eye for goal to match. He notched up double figures in two consecutive seasons for Millwall before leaving the club for West Brom, a departure that could have impacted The Lions significantly.
Yet, even with Wallace packing his bags for pastures new, Gary Rowett’s Millwall this season are only out of the playoffs at the time of writing on goal difference. There’s a new star now delivering for The Lions, a star imported from the Netherlands. A club more known for buying gritty footballers on home soil than looking to Europe, Zian Flemming joining the building showcases an unorthodox transfer working wonders.
The Dutchman has scored 10 goals in 24 appearances for his new employers, an early highlight in his Millwall career coming away at Preston with Flemming managing a hat-trick for The Lions. Those three goals on the day for the ex-Fortuna Sittard attacker showcased his skill and prowess in front of goal, firing hard into the net after using his strength to hold off multiple Preston shirts for one of the strikes with another on the day coming courtesy of a free-kick hammered in.
His transition to English football has been almost effortless, Flemming a confident character at this point in time. His football career started in his native Netherlands, coming through the youth system at Ajax and even playing for Ajax’s B Side in the form of Jong Ajax. He would manage six goals in the second division of Dutch football for the reserve side, lifting the Eerste Divisie title in the process.
A move up to the Eredivisie materialised as a result, Flemming eager to impress when putting pen to paper on a move to PEC Zwolle. This, however, was a spell Flemming won’t look back on with fondness – the Dutchman still had lots to learn, the then 20-year-old only scoring twice in the league for Zwolle. Ever since this underwhelming spell with PEC Zwolle however, Flemming’s career has been on an upward trajectory.
A loan move to NEC Nijmegen unearthed the prolific attacker Millwall have in their ranks today, the Amsterdam-born forward excelling in the distinctive red and green strip of NEC. His prolific nature at the Dutch club also saw a trademark celebration begin, Flemming flexing his muscles directly after every strike had rippled the back of the net.
His ability to score audacious goals shone during his year at Nijmegen, taking the ball down coolly on the edge of the box and firing home effortlessly on many occasions. Sometimes, Flemming would get lucky and a deflection would aid his strike hitting the back of the net but his fearlessness in attempting efforts on goal proved to be an effective calling card throughout the 2019-20 season.
An attribute to his game that also shone through at NEC was his ability to score from free-kicks, a player that would generate even a smattering of applause from the opposition fans for the entertainment he brings to a football pitch. He would manage 13 goals in just 25 matches for the Dutch club, an impressive goal-laden spell that would be followed up by an equally as impressive stint with Fortuna Sittard.
Millwall took a gamble off the back of these prolific spells, a signing that went against the grain at The Den – most of the Lions first team line-up are players from the UK, although Millwall also purchased Andreas Voglsammer from Union Berlin in the same transfer window. It’s a gamble that has paid off, Flemming an instant star in Millwall navy blue.
Flemming became Millwall’s club-record signing, a hefty £1.7 million transfer fee above his head. This might well have fazed Flemming initially, the Dutchman in and out of the side in August before eventually netting his first strike for the Lions in the middle of September versus Blackpool at The Den. It was a typical Millwall goal, Flemming rising highest from a corner kick to plant a header past the Blackpool keeper for 1-0 before Benik Afobe scored late on to secure a narrow 2-1 win.
After this, the player now coined the ‘Bermondsey Bergkamp’ by some hit the ground running with a purple patch in October. The Amsterdam attacker scored four times in just three games against Rotherham, Middlesbrough and Bristol City to truly announce himself in the English game. His solitary strike away at Rotherham was the pick of the bunch with the Dutch star cannoning a shot in from long-range.
He could well have won the game all on his own on the night, a free-kick opportunity in the second half unfortunately hitting the crossbar. But, Millwall had to make do with a 1-1 draw on their travels to South Yorkshire. The aforementioned hat-trick away at Deepdale sticks out, all three of his goals on the day versus Ryan Lowe’s Preston fantastic goals in their own right.
His opening goal in that fixture showcased a superb first touch, great strength to hold off a multitude of Preston shirts and a perfect finish that Freddie Woodman couldn’t stop from hitting the back of the net. His second of the afternoon was a free-kick, Flemming a real danger when stepping up from a dead ball situation. Going for a hard and low free-kick this time, Woodman was caught napping and could only watch as the ball entered the net again.
He would have his hat-trick in this one just after the hour mark, remarkable composure on the ball with a Preston man ready to launch into a tackle. He didn’t even pay attention to the man in white and fired home, a hat-trick on the day to give The Lions a 4-2 win overall. Only managing four shots on target as a collective in that encounter, Flemming’s prolific nature in front of goal secured those three points almost single-handedly.
Other players have stepped up to the mark lately however, Flemming going without a goal in Championship action since Watford away on Boxing Day. Tom Bradshaw, a seasoned EFL professional, has led the line competently with Flemming taking on more creative duties behind him – Bradshaw netting the only strike in Millwall’s last match away at Cardiff City, a 1-0 win lapped up by the diehard Lions away following in Wales.
Only outside of the playoffs on goal difference at this point in time – Gary Rowett’s men one of many teams battling it out in a congested section of the Championship table – Zian Flemming could well prove crucial as a figure to score a wonder goal out of nothing in a crunch contest late on in the season.
Already touted for a potential move to the Premier League according to social media speculation, the Dutch star will just be remaining focussed on the here and now to try and help his current employers get into those Championship playoffs and have a shot at Premier League football with the Lions. Stumbling upon a gem in Flemming – Millwall exploring new leagues across Europe for potential talent – there’s no doubt in my mind that the Lions will continue to forage for new stars further afield in the future.
By: Kelan Sarson / @SarsonKelan
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / BSR Agency / Getty Images