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Interviews

MANAGER: Hungry is a good word to describe him

Keith Millen on the signing of Joel Senior

3 January 2022

With United’s first January deal signed, sealed and delivered, manager Keith Millen spoke this afternoon about the acquisition of defender Joel Senior from Altrincham, and about getting business done as early as possible as he looks for the squad to kick on.

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“We’re really pleased to have him in,” he said. “He’s a player the club have been looking at since last April, so when I came here he was one that was highlighted to me.

“I think he won all of the end of season awards at Altrincham last year and his stats on assists and things like that are really good.

“When they showed me his clips it looked like an interesting one, and I’ve been able to watch him three times now.

“He’s probably the player I’ve watched more than anyone, so we’ve certainly done our homework on him.”

“He’s a young player who has had a taste at the top level at Burnley, and he was unlucky with Covid and different things there,” he continued. “He’s done really well at Altrincham for 18 months and he deserves his chance now.

“I see him as a real prospect, with a lot of potential. He’s come here to fight for a place, but he’s got great athleticism and he can get up and down the pitch.

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“A big thing is he can play on both sides, and that’s one of the things that attracted me to him. He’s predominantly a right back, but I’ve watched him a couple of times at left back and he can play that role as well.

“We’re short in that area so it’s good he’s here to compete on both sides of defence. He’s a great signing for the club but we’ve got to do some work with him.

“He’s not used to training every day, because Altrincham are part time, so it might take him a bit of time to get used to that. He’s keen to learn and improve so I’m really pleased to get it done.”

And having talked to the player face-to-face on a number of occasions over the past few weeks, he told us: “He’s hungry, I think that’s a good word to describe him.

“When I first met him I asked him where he saw himself in a year’s time and he’s hungry to improve. He sees the fact that he’s coming here to work with me as a way he can improve as a defender.

“I’m sure we can improve him. He wants to get better, and the better we can make him, the better we’ll be as a team.

“But there are no guarantees, he’s got to work hard to get in the team. Whatever player we bring in will have to work hard, we’re on the back of two wins so no one is going to come in here and get straight into it.

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“They’ve got to earn the right. He’s had his first training session today, but it always takes a couple of days to settle in.

“He can be involved in the Harrogate game tomorrow, which is good, because it gets him around the lads and shows him what I expect from our defenders. It’s a longer-term project and he needs to learn what I want as quickly as possible.”

“When you talk about desire, I could see straight away that he wants to better himself,” he continued. “When he was at Altrincham, they train part-time, but he would train on his own in the gym, almost every day.

“When you’ve had a taste of full-time football like he’s had, and come away from it, you either accept it or think no, I want some more of that. His attitude definitely is that he’s had a taste of it and feels and knows he’s good enough to go again.

“Hopefully we get the benefit of the disappointment of it not working for him at Burnley and I think that’s going to give him a lot more drive. That’s what I sense talking to him. They’re the sort of people you want to work with, people that are hungry to get better.”

Although expected to focus defensively, the stats prove that United’s new addition has an attacking angle he likes to utilise.

“The way we play, I want my full backs to get up and down and give us the width,” the gaffer agreed. “They should be getting assists, and that’s what I’ve seen Joel do.

“He’s got good quality, and he’s going to be fighting for his place. I think he’s good enough as a left-back to compete for that position as well, and we short in that area definitely.

“That area was a concern when I first came into the club. The fact that he can compete for the left-back position, and yes, he sees himself more as a right-sided defender, but some defenders are comfortable playing on both sides and some struggle with it.

“I’ve seen him play a couple of games for Altrincham at left-back. He’s more than happy with it and it certainly helps that he can cover both positions.”

The first involvement for the 22-year-old could be in the Tuesday night game at Harrogate, where United head into their last 16 game of the Papa John’s Trophy.

“I think he’s fit enough, because he’s a fit lad naturally anyway,” the gaffer said. “I wouldn’t be worried about his fitness. I tried to give him a couple of principles of defending that I work from today, just to give him an idea, and I even noticed in training today a couple of things I don’t particularly like.

“So he’s learned a couple of things already today. He needs to learn about how we want to defend as individuals and in the unit, but that will come.

“Every time I get the chance to train with him and the group, it just depends how quickly he can learn and understand how we defend. I’ve got no worries in his attacking sense, that’s the strength of his game, but first of all he’s got to learn how to defend properly. 

“From a club’s perspective, as an investment you always try and look for players you can add value to. He’s one of them who’s a real prospect.

“How quickly he gets in the team and has an impact, we don’t know yet. I think he’s got the basics of progressing and becoming a better player. Who knows then how far that can take him, and help us to become a better team.”

And on being backed by the board to meet the asking price, he told us: “We’ve paid an undisclosed fee, which we knew was in the contract at Altrincham.

“They realised what sort of player they had and there was a lot of interest in him, so we’ve done well to get him to sign for us.

“The club understand who our targets are and the reasons why. Hopefully it’s good money spent and he could be worth more in the future.”

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