Leeds’ academy was Charlie Cresswell’s education, Millwall might be his graduation

With his 20th birthday on the horizon, Charlie Cresswell stole the nest. Home, which had always been his parents’ home in Yorkshire, became a flat in a block of flats in London’s Canary Wharf.

The grass of Leeds United where he grew up for many years became the sand and gravel of Millwall, a club that prides itself on pushing players out of their comfort zone.

“London life,” jokes Cresswell, standing by the tunnel of The Den with the towers of Canary Wharf in the distance behind him. “I’m more used to the sheep and the fields around me, so London is a bit crazy compared to that. But I love it here, really.

Leeds could tell him all about Millwall because they know Millwall inside out, not least how Bermondsey’s best have perfected the art of beating them in that corner of the capital.

The Den, as a former Leeds player once said, is a ground where the harder you try to hide, the more the crowd comes looking for you. Cresswell had other offers this summer, with other teams asking to sign him on loan, but Millwall seemed ideal. There are places where a lent can accumulate minutes in peace. Bermondsey is not one of them.

If Cresswell’s choice of move did him good, it did good for Leeds and also for his professional growth. Sending it was no clearance from the bridges and no indication that the defender had followed his run to Elland Road.

He is, for example, not Jamie Shackleton, another Leeds player who joined Millwall on loan in July and is holed up in the same block of flats as Cresswell, appearing alongside him in the 2-1 win at Saturday against Blackpool. Shackleton is 22, had his chance at Leeds and knows he and the club are almost done. Millwall has an option to buy it when its loan expires.

Cresswell is different. Leeds see him as the future at centre-back, provided his development goes as planned, and decided over the summer that a year in the Championship would toughen him up nicely, if not complete his apprenticeship for the Premier. League.

Cresswell has become a regular for England Under-21s (Photo: George Wood – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Unlike Shackleton, Millwall have had no chance of signing Cresswell permanently and although Leeds did not demand a loan fee before sending him south, the deal with Gary Rowett’s side will impose clauses penalty if he does not play as much as Leeds want. There is also a provision for his parent club to recall him in January, although this safety net is for emergencies. The whole point of the transfer was that he stayed at The Den and played.

Football elsewhere suited him because despite everything Cresswell made his Premier League debut under Marcelo Bielsa last season, those 90 minutes amounted to a total of 139 over the campaign.

Millwall, naturally, pushed him harder: eight starts, more exposure in a usually wide-open division and the pressure of trying to give them a run for the play-offs.

Leeds academy was his education. Nine months in London could be his graduation. “I would classify myself as a first-team player when I’ve played around 50 games,” Cresswell said Athleticism in April and a first move away from Elland Road should bring him closer to that number.

The England Under-21 international is a good mix of intelligence and strength; tough enough to tangle with centre-forwards in centuries-old tradition but good enough with his feet to support himself in a team that wants to pass out from deep.

Bielsa brought ball-playing qualities to the team he led at Elland Road, ordering centre-backs to distribute possession as religiously as the midfielders in front of them, but Cresswell also developed physically, growing stronger at each pre-season visit.

In the Championship, a mix of grit and slickness come in handy, a competition where Blackpool’s team variety alone swings from the towering height of Gary Madine to the lively, productive feet of Jerry Yates.

Cresswell’s loan at this stage required him to be pre-emptive and on the front foot. Going into the Blackpool game, he was placed among the top five centre-backs in the league who compete for aerial deliveries, fourth in winning true tackles (the combined calculation of tackles made, fouls made and challenges lost) and fifth for true interceptions (a combination of interceptions and blocked passes). The basic requirements of his position were tested from the start.

There were also difficult moments, such as the misplaced backpass that cost Millwall a 2-0 loss to Sheffield United, but strong attacking production made more positive headlines: two goals on his debut against Stoke City, another against Cardiff City and an assist for good measure.

Millwall manager Rowett started the season with Cresswell in his line-up but then let him go after a month, making way for club captain Shaun Hutchinson. A groin injury suffered by Hutchinson has since reopened the door.

Rowett uses a back three in which Cresswell plays on the right. The wingers on either side of a midfield two are there to provide cover and double up, but can leave defenders behind them exposed when they move away beyond half. It was Shackleton who filled in the right flank on Saturday, in the role Bielsa tried to get him into Leeds form. Blackpool looked to level Millwall, going 3-4-3 and positioning Dominic Thompson to run into the Cresswell area of ​​the pitch.

Through lack of possession, Cresswell regularly positioned himself as the deepest of centre-backs, the last man responsible for Blackpool’s direct shots over the top.

Opportunities to take the ball forward were rare, but he did it when he could against a Blackpool side with limited lead in his pencil. A corner came Millwall’s way in the 14th minute and Cresswell, who had scored from a free-kick more than once this season, trotted straight for him. He was in the fray when a Zian Flemming header bounced off goalkeeper Daniel Grimshaw for an own goal.

Yates kept Cresswell busy trying to get away from him and spin him around, using smart bursts to stretch the play. Cresswell was aware of most of his moves and landed a big hit early in the second half. -time, crushing Yates halfway.

Cresswell battles with Blackpool’s Jerry Yates (Photo: Lee Parker – CameraSport via Getty Images)

All it took, however, was an equalizer from Blackpool to show that dissatisfaction with Rowett is bubbling below the surface at The Den. The visitors came in behind Shackleton, Cresswell’s sliding challenge failed to block Thompson’s pass and Charlie Patino nabbed a finish into the net. Millwall in that guise seemed less sure of sniffing the play-offs than catching a whiff from across the table. Halftime brought boos and lots of them.

In a sense, Cresswell can expect to perform as it should in London, forced to deal with a fair or fetid atmosphere. The state of the game at Millwall is such that with 10 games to go, Cresswell is level on his own goals as the club’s top scorer.

Rowett’s system, with a high back line, gives little room for error to a defensive unit without extreme pace. As such, Millwall had trailing moments and conceded 14 times. But these can be valuable first steps for a lender, steps that require courage and maturity in the absence of everything going well.

Millwall, however, rallied and Benik Afobe sealed a 2-1 win with a 63rd-minute strike. Cresswell has now gone into no-nonsense mode, giving nothing and stepping in with a big interception and an even more needed tackle on CJ Hamilton inside the box. A quality display from the bases came from him when it mattered and the boos turned into full-time applause as Millwall moved up to 13th, two points off sixth.

Afterwards, Cresswell says he was satisfied with all but two of his performances. The mix of ups and downs over a short period of time teaches him to manage them and control his reaction to them. “The first game I scored two goals, so I’m really high,” he said. “Then the following week I make a mistake against Sheffield United and it feels like a low. I need to have a cool head because if I’m too high or too low I’ll never be in that bar where you can live your life and enjoy it. I want to enjoy life while enjoying my football.

“I’m happy with the way I played. There were two games where I thought I should have done better but as a young player on loan I know I’m going to make mistakes and I know I’ll going to come up against players who will teach you something different. That’s what I need. And here (in Millwall) there’s no hiding. I wouldn’t be hiding anyway, I “I like getting into a game, but you know how it’s going to be. That’s part of why I wanted to come – to show some balls and get to the plate.

Next Sunday will mark one year since Bielsa let Cresswell loose in the Premier League for the first time, against West Ham United at Elland Road. It was valuable experience but, in the grand scheme, will do less for him than a full season at the coalface.

“Last year I played about six times,” he says. “What you try to make sure is that you try your luck on this occasion or on individual occasions. With this loan, you have to try your luck every week. You have to prepare your mind, your body, everything. You always have to be ready. »

When it came to discussing Cresswell’s future over the summer, all parties agreed he was ready to leave Leeds. All parties have agreed that he will also be back for a reassessment next summer. He will let Millwall squeeze every drop out of him. Then he will return home to the sheep and the fields, hoping to be stronger, brighter and better.

(Photo: James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)


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