By Rob Atkinson
The Swindon-born former Reading and Leicester defender has not been an outstanding success at Bolton Wanderers, his last start for them being against Huddersfield on December 8, when he injured a thigh and has managed only one substitute appearance since. His time at Leicester City was hardly wonderful either, and Mills was a loan target for former United boss Neil Warnock early in his Elland Road tenure. That failed to happen, and a rumoured £2m fee saw the defender link up with Bolton – but it seems likely his time there is now up, with an offer in the region of £1m being thought sufficient to secure his services.
The player himself – according to the familiar “sources close to…” – is keen on the chance to renew his working relationship with his old Reading boss Brian McDermott. Central defence is on the list of positions needing to be strengthened at Elland Road, and it may just be that the Old Pals’ Act could secure a reliable performer for United. This optimistic assessment is certainly not based on recent form, but there have been many instances down the years of players in the doldrums being reinvigorated by a reunion with a former mentor. McDermott’s success at the Madejski throws up a few names, some still at Reading, some that have since moved on – that could be identified as players who would relish another crack of the whip under an old boss at a club like Leeds – enough of a pull in its own right.
Mills has certainly waxed lyrical about his past service under McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs. “My first few months at Reading didn’t pan out as the move I expected and wanted, but that all changed when Brian got the job and Gibbo became assistant manager.” the ex-Royal has been quoted as saying. “They gave me a new lease of life, and the opportunity and coaching they gave me has honestly made me the player I am now.” As fulsome tributes go, this is very much in “come and get me plea” territory, and it has been suggested that Mills is willing to reject overtures from elsewhere in favour of a switch to LS11.
My own view is that, at only 26, Mills has many miles left on the clock, and the class he has undoubtedly displayed in the past will not have deserted him permanently. A happy player is more likely to be a top-performing player, and the fruitful coaching relationship between Brian, Gibbo and Matt at their former club seems to suggest that its a scenario which could unfold again, to the satisfaction of all parties.
Whether the powers that be are prepared to stump up £1million is of course another matter, and wages are always an issue as well. But there is some pedigree here, and the chance to build on some good history too. So I feel there may just be some legs in this rumour, and it’s a move I would love to see happen. ”Lees and Mills” could well be the central defensive partnership on everybody’s lips in the Championship next season.