June 20, 2024

RYAN Leonard revealed the close bonds he has formed with players and staff was a key reason in his decision to sign a new deal with Millwall.

The Lions offered the versatile Leonard, 31, new terms after the end of the season and it was confirmed last week that he had signed to remain at the club for a sixth season.

Leonard joined initially on loan from Sheffield United in the summer of 2018 before a then-record club transfer went through the following January.

The former Southend man is a popular player in the dressing room and his big work ethic has impressed fans.

Leonard was due to be out of contract at the end of this month.

“I’m very happy, it’s nice to get it over the line. It’s always one of those when you’re trying to get it sorted it takes a bit of time,” Leonard said on Millwall TV. 

“It’s nice to move on from that and focus on the pre-season ahead.

“I’ve got a lot of friends, I’ve got a lot of people here that I get on really well with. Players and staff, I seem to get on really well with everyone and it was a factor in me wanting to stay.

“The football club is one I’ve really taken on board. I enjoy playing for the club and I enjoy all the backroom staff, all the players.

“It was a no-brainer.”

Leonard has made 128 appearances for the club but that number would be a lot higher if it weren’t for injuries. He was restricted to eighteen games last season and 21 the season before that. Yet when he’s available his managers always seem to call on him, such as in Millwall’s must-win game on the second-last day last season against Blackpool.

Leonard started on the right side of a back three and set up Tom Bradshaw’s opener in the second minute in the 3-2 win.

Leonard is determined to overcome his injury issues.

“It’s no hiding place, I have struggled with injury the last couple of years. It’s an obvious thing, I’m not scared to say it. It’s something that I need to work on and need to move away from,” Leonard said.

“When I get myself fit and I’m available I feel like I’m a big part of the squad and a big part of the team.

“I need to keep myself fit and do things to keep myself out on the pitch. For me that’s the main thing, I need to be available for the manager and available for the lads so that when I get out there playing I can do what I’ve done.

“There have been moments when I’ve contributed in different ways. It’s a case of staying fit and staying out there and then my football takes care of itself.

“We all realised going up to Blackpool, coming out for the warm-up and seeing all the fans ready for the game, we knew how much of an important game it was. We know the last away game is a big one for the fans, a big achievement for them.

“It was a game where we turned up on the night and put in a great performance. I managed to contribute, which was good.”

Leonard’s first season could have seen him relegated back to League One where he played with Southend.

Millwall stayed up on the second-last day under Neil Harris and Leonard has seen how the club has grown since then.

“They’d got promoted to the Championship just before I signed,” Leonard said. “My first season we struggled, we only just stayed up the last couple of games. To go from that in four years to just missing out by one game of the season, the gap from where we were and where we are now is massive.

“You see it with the players we’re signing, you see it with the squad we’ve got, the young lads coming through – we’ve got a hell of a group of players for the season coming up. I’m sure we’re going to be bringing in new players as well. We’ve got a squad of players where every year it seems to be getting better and better and we’re in a stronger position each year.”

Leonard had his children at Calmont Road the day his new deal was confirmed.

He highlighted what is special about Millwall.

“It’s a family club. I wanted to bring my kids in today and for them to see where I work and where everything happens. That’s one of the biggest things, it is a family club and everyone behind the scenes is in it together,” Leonard said.

“That’s the mainstay of the football club – we are all in it together.

“We may not have the biggest budget or be the biggest club in the Championship but we’re all in it together. That’s what we have to focus on. We’re like that as players, we’re like that as families and we’re like that as a club.”

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