By Will Unwin
As endorsements go, Roy Hodgson’s isn’t a bad one to get. Both Keith Millen and Swedish football received such praise, leading the former Bristol City boss to start a new adventure in Scandinavia.
Millen joined Halmstad as a coach, enjoying a positive season with the club where the former England manager won two league titles over 40 years ago.
“Roy Hodgson rang me to say Halmstad, who he managed, were looking for an experienced coach.
“They were willing to look over in England for a coach to come over. At the time, I was trying to get back in at Brentford but that didn’t come off.
“I had a few discussions with Roy about whether I should come over, he knew me as a person and a coach, he knew what Swedish people and football were like, and he thought it would be quite a good fit and hopefully get some success over here.
“If it wasn’t for Roy pushing me towards it, I probably wouldn’t have done it.
“I really enjoyed my time there but we just missed out on the play-offs, so I told the club I wouldn’t be staying after a year.”
After getting a taste of Swedish football, Millen departed Halmstad but left the door open for a return to the country if the right job came along.
“Word had got about with what I had done at Halmstad, I met the team called Örgryte, based in Gothenburg. I flew over, met the board, did the usual interviews and meetings, really liked what I saw, it suited the way I wanted to work and what I was looking for. They offered me the job.”
There is evidence of what success in Sweden can lead to, with Graham Potter’s reign at Ostersunds the most obvious case.
Millen’s last managerial role came in England was in 2011, when he left Championship side Bristol City. He has since enjoyed spells in caretaker charge of Crystal Palace and MK Dons.
The 53-year-old worked under numerous managers at Selhurst Park, including Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew over a five-year spell with the Eagles.
“I did some coaching in America when I was a bit younger, so I was always open to a different experience, different culture, different way of working and certainly different mentalities in the players’ temperaments, which are definitely different to the players in England.
“It is definitely a good learning curve as a manager and coach, so it was certainly something I was interested in and this one seemed to really fit with how I wanted to work.
“I spoke to quite a few people who I respect in the game in England and they said that sometimes in your career you have to almost reinvent yourself on your CV; I have a good CV for what I have done at the clubs I have played and worked for but sometimes you have to do something a little bit different and freshen things up."
In England, the job market has been tough for Millen who has been unable to secure a managerial role for almost a decade.
“I went for two or three jobs even in League Two, where I have never worked, but that’s the market in England, it’s very difficult.
"I am hoping I can come over here and be successful, which will hopefully open more doors for me, whether it’s over here or in England.”
Millen has embraced the different football culture in Sweden, ensuring his backroom staff is made up of Swedes, while he has also brought in a Spanish coach.
There has been plenty of training done at Örgryte, where his squad includes former Manchester City midfielder Abdul Razak, since Millen arrived at the start of the year.
A full pre-season programme was completed before coronavirus stopped the season before it even began, leaving preparations at a standstill.
“To have pre-season for three months and then to not start, you have to be really careful to make sure you don’t overtrain and becoming flat.
“We are talking five months of training without any real meaningful games, which is a long time to keep players motivated and switched on.
“We had to think really hard about when we gave them time off as it’s going to be really important when it does start, that again it’s going to be different over here when we do restart as they will be playing a lot of midweek games, which they are not used to over here, as the games programme is going to be squashed into a six-month period.
"They are going to be playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, which they are not used to over here, so I am trying to adapt training to get them ready for that new schedule.”
Millen is living alone in Gothenburg, away from his family in England, which has made life more difficult during coronavirus
Sweden has not gone into lockdown but Millen has been cautious, keeping himself to himself in recent months when away from the football club.
“It’s been really tough, it’s great to go into work every day and I am almost working all the time, to keep myself busy.
“There is a scheme where the government are helping with paying wages, which is similar to in England, but part of the deal is that you are limited to how many hours each week you can spend at your workplace.
“It’s fine as far as training is concerned and when that is finished, I carry on working from home. The hardest thing is not knowing when I can go back to England to see the family, or them coming to see me.
"Now no one can fly anywhere, so the worst thing is now knowing when I can see the family again.”
Having taken a risk, the delay will be frustrating but if it pays off in the long-term it will feel all the sweeter for Millen.