Posted by Jeremy Brockie
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with my Wellington Phoenix teammate Paul Ifill who has a distinguished playing career back in England.
‘Iffie’ and I touched on plenty of points from his playing days with Millwall, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace including the progress being made by ex-Eagles youngster Victor Moses at Chelsea, the day Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne comprehensively beat him at Palace training, the leadership of Dennis Wise, and Millwall’s FA Cup run amongst other things.
Read on for Ifill’s insights into a number of different topics.
“I think the way Dennis played, you couldn't help but like him. He was always about the team and led from the front!
“Also, technically he was excellent and chipped in with a few goals and plenty of assists during his time. As he was already a leader on the pitch, he had instant respect when he became player-manager and seemed to manage the change pretty easily. For me he was excellent for my development.”
“It’s funny you should ask as I still remember his first day training in the first team (back in 2008). Our regular right-back Danny Butterfield was injured so Neil Warnock called Clyne into our 11v11 and put me on the left side against him. Warnock told me to run him ragged to see if he was ready. Luckily ten minutes later, Warnock put me out of my misery and put me back in the first team playing on the right side in front of Clyne as he’d hardly given me a kick!
“The staff’s only worry was his size but he makes up for that with his tenacity and speed.”
“Victor was training with the first team at 17 (years old) and you could see even back then that he was destined for the Premier League. He has everything: pace, power, technique. The only question at all was whether he was willing to work hard enough to actually make it as big as he has done!
“As soon as he began playing in the first team, it was evident that his work rate was improving!
“Probably the best teenager I’ve ever seen and he’s only just scratching the surface at Chelsea. Trust me there’s plenty more to come.”
On Crystal Palace’s burgeoning youth academy
“Palace’s youth system is excellent and has produced many good players, most recently Moses, Clyne, (Wilfried) Zaha to name a few!
“I believe this is down to the systems in place and the top coaching from the likes of Gary Issot who was excellent with the kids during my time at the club. Also many of the young lads hail from the tougher estates of south London so most are already streetwise and a little tougher than most lads of their age which stands them in good stead for men’s football.”
“Neil signed me from Millwall for £1 million (in 2005) and to begin with we had a great relationship!
“He was great as a motivator but not so great at man management. He can be very fiery and some of his rants were legendary.
“We had our disagreements but I always admired his honesty. He once dropped me because his wife had had a dream and told him that I shouldn't play that weekend! Crazy stuff but better than being told you were being rested when you know better.
“There was no big fall-out at Palace. He offered me another year but I felt I needed to move on at that time.”
On the best player he played with at Millwall
“Tough to pick just one so I’ll cheat and pick a few. Steven Reid, Tim Cahill, Dion Dublin and Dennis Wise.
“Although a lad by the name of Richard Sadlier may have eclipsed them all had his career not been cut short by injury at 24. He was a centre forward from Ireland. Aston Villa had bid £7.5million for him just days before his injury. It was a very sad affair.”
On the best player he played with at Sheffield United
“Much easier as I was only there 18 months and Phil Jagielka (now at Everton) was head and shoulders above all of us and he could play almost anywhere. Top player.”
On the best player he played with at Crystal Palace
“I’ll have to cheat again and pick two wingers here. Victor Moses and Scott Sinclair (now with Manchester City). They were part of the reason I couldn't get a regular game during my second season there as those two were excellent. Very different players but equally talented.”
On Millwall’s progress in this season’s FA Cup bringing back memories of their final with Manchester United in 2004
“I’ve followed Millwall since the day I left and it’s unbelievable to see what they've done this season. I truly hope they can do it if so I’ll fly back for the final of course! – (Millwall are currently preparing for the semi-final at Wembley against Wigan Athletic on April 13)
“It brings back some amazing memories. I was only 24 at the time (we lost 3-0 to United) and it was so special. Something I dreamed about as a child and a great day for friends and family.”
“I was only just starting as a youth team player when he was appointed and didn't know much about the history (between arch rivals West Ham and Millwall) or rivalry at that time but I remember the fans going mad when he was appointed!
“He didn't last long but did give myself and Tim Cahill our first pro contracts.”
On his own career
“I honestly believe I can carry on for 3,4 or 5 years yet. I’m not even contemplating retirement. I believe the minute you do that, subconsciously you start to slack off a bit and at my age (33), I can’t afford to do that.
“Injury permitting, I’d love to carry on and eventually move into coaching in New Zealand and at the moment I have no plans to return to the UK.”