By Matt Woosnam
It's not often that fans get to play for the club they support, but for Keith Millen that dream nearly came true, only to be snatched away from him, after he was released from the Crystal Palace academy as a teenager. However, the Croydon born Palace supporter is back at the club as assistant manager to Ian Holloway and concedes that "it is an honour" to be part of the coaching set up at the club. Millen will take charge of the club he has supported since he was a young boy, for the next two matches as Holloway serves a two match touchline ban.
Millen spoke to FYP shortly after the development squad fell to a 2-1 defeat against Cardiff on Tuesday night, and revealed that he was "absolutely delighted" with the signings Palace have made this summer, despite the frantic nature of transfer deadline day. Indeed, he also admitted his desire to scrap the transfer window: "For me I would scrap it completely or bring it in before season starts so you know what you’re working with."
Having signed 16 players in the transfer window, Millen could not hide his satisfaction with how the window went overall.
"I’m absolutely delighted. It was all a little bit last minute and a bit mad, Chris the secretary and Phil [Alexander] the chief exec were mad at it yesterday [Monday] but yeah delighted with the players we’ve brought in, we’ve added some quality to the squad, as there was more competition needed in the squad."
Referring to the importance of strength in depth, he spoke of the importance to have a good quality squad in the Premier League.
"It’s massive. You look at bigger clubs and their squads, subs make a massive difference. Every game you watch they make changes about 60/70 minutes in and they change the games. We feel now we’ve got more competition for every place and our subs bench can make a difference.
"We knew the positions we wanted to strengthen but you need to look at the market and what’s out there and what is value for money. I think we’ve brought players in that are good deals, good people with good attitudes who want to learn. Hopefully we can work with them and make them better players worth even more money."
Palace brought in a mix of young players and players in their prime, striking a good balance between youth and experience.
"I think it is very important, you need experience and we’ve got some great experienced pros at the club who set the standards if you like, but we want to develop young players as well. I think experience in the Premier League is important and nearly all the players brought in have been there and are not scared of it. That’s important because there big games every week so we have got to be ready physically and mentally."
Paddy McCarthy made his return from a long term injury, and Palace's assistant manager was happy to see the club captain back in action, whilst he also praised Jonathan Parr's fitness.
"Paddy has been out a long time, so we have got to be patient. He’s a great pro who wants to get back as soon as possible but realises he can’t rush the injury he had, we’re trying to be careful with him. When you’ve been out a long time you tend to pick up niggling injuries that are not necessarily the original one. He’s frustrated but it was a good come back tonight and in the first half he looked to be at the pace of the game.
[Jonathan Parr is a] naturally fit lad anyway and he can run all day, it's now just a case of getting match fitness into him, he's been out a long time but it didn’t look like had any ill effects."
Fans favourite Peter Ramage was sent out on loan as the club could not guarantee him regular first team football.
"Rambo is a fantastic pro who gets frustrated when he’s not playing, he’s a good championship player, and has had great career at championship level. I’m not surprised clubs came in for him, and I know he’ll be happy playing every week because he trains properly, he does it right. Peter is a really good experienced pro who deserves to play every week."
When asked if he would scrap the transfer window, he responded by noting that "it’s fantastic viewing for the public and for sky especially. It’s better than seeing the new year in when they do the countdown, but for us and the manager I don’t understand why they let it overlap the start of the season. For me I would scrap it completely or bring it in before season starts so you know what you’re working with. Otherwise you end up with deals being rushed through and too much money being paid. That’s where we’ve been very clever bringing good players in who are good value for money.
"I've not been involved [in the financial discussions] but the chairman has backed the manager and spent wisely so we look at the squad now and it's a case of getting them together and gelling them as quickly as possible. Nice to get a two week break, lots of players have gone on international duty so won’t see them to next week but I'm excited to work with the players we’ve brought in.
"The trouble is you’ve got to work with the 25 man squad until January. There will be at least three or four players who won’t be in it. The manager will speak to them and explain the reasons why. It’s always for the good of the club and the team. Of course players will be disappointed as they have worked hard to get into the team but you can only name 25. That’s the reality of it and unfortunately some will miss out."
Despite missing out on Darren Bent and Andrew Johnson, Millen was still upbeat, claiming that there was no-one the club were too disappointed to miss out on signing.
"We identified positions we needed to get in. Names were bandied about, Darren Bent was the big one. The one all summer that chairman pursued. It wasn’t meant to be, and he went to Fulham. You can see the ambition of club and the chairman, we want to keep improving the squad, we have got to do that if we want survive this year and we’ve got to get better players in which is what we have done.
I don’t know [Andrew Johnson] personally, but I’ve worked with him and met him. Andy’s a great pro who has been out with a serious injury, but he’s come back and is playing well with QPR. I know we had discussions with him and he’d like to have come back. I can assure the fans and chairman [that he wanted to come back to Palace] because of what he did here before. Unfortunately It wasn’t meant to be. Luckily we had Cameron Jerome lined up as well and he’s an exciting addition to the squad. So we’re not going to win them all, look at the amount of players who have gone and the players who didn’t get the deal done, luckily we had some back up plans as well."
The 46-year-old former Bristol City manager also spoke fondly about returning to his boyhood club as assistant manager.
"It’s an honour for me it really is. You look around now we’re in the Premier League and at the games already, every game we’ve been to, the atmosphere and the whole occasion is fantastic to be part of. I’m relishing it, I love the challenge, love working with the players and the manager so long may it continue."
Millen will see a dream come true at Old Trafford when Palace take on Manchester United, and again at Selhurst Park in the match against Swansea City, as he will take charge of the team for the next two matches, following the FA's decision to hand boss Ian Holloway a two match touchline ban for his comments about referee Mark Clattenburg following the 1-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day of the season.