By Paul Jones
The London club was where Harris made his name and reputation – firstly as a goalscorer who banged in 138 goals for the club and then as their manager for 245 matches over three-and-a-half years.
Harris celebrates a year in charge in the Welsh capital this week and would love to start his second year with a win at the club where he is still the record goalscorer and first cut his teeth as a manager.
“I started out from scratch at Millwall and I was learning on my feet every day in the job. I enjoyed my time there as a player and a manager and I like to think I left Gary (Rowett) with a good core group of players,” said Harris.
“Building a long-term programme there was exciting, but that chapter of my life is now closed. I’m now involved in another great project at Cardiff, where we are building up the Academy.
“We had some success last season and we need to get on the front foot again and start to move forward.”
This will be Harris’ first trip back to The New Den since he left, but his influence there is still evident in the number of players he helped develop, including Jed Wallace, the striker who was tipped for a move to the Premier League last season.
Wallace believes Harris rescued his career and has told the South London Press of his admiration for the current Cardiff boss.
“I was at Wolves and for the first time in my career I really lost my confidence,” said Wallace, 26.
“When things aren’t going well you feel so insecure. I went from a real hot prospect at Portsmouth to where it didn’t work out.
“I was thinking ‘what am I going to do – who is going to want me?’. My agent told me to calm down, that I hadn’t turned into a bad player in six weeks. We looked at a League One table and he asked where I wanted to go, because he felt I could probably go to most of the ones I wanted.
“Straight away you look at the big clubs there – Sheffield United and Millwall. I was thinking ‘I’m three hours away from home and not having a great time’. I was still only 20 and Millwall seemed a good idea as I could live back home with mum and dad.
“I spoke to Ben Thatcher, who is a family friend and he knew Neil. Neil then got straight on the phone to my agent.
“It’s no coincidence that players who had difficult times did well under him like myself, Coops [Jake Cooper], Mahlon [Romeo], Sav [George Saville] and Hutch [Shaun Hutchinson]. You can just feel that genuine belief in you straight away.
“You came into the environment that Chopper created and you loved it. You wanted to come back. That’s why so many players who came on loan signed for Millwall.
“The man, for me, is a Millwall icon – as a player and as a manager. I was lucky to play for him.
“He is one of the most highly-thought of managers. There are always going to be players who talk bad – mostly through bitterness of their own circumstance. But Neil is one who there are very few players, whether they are in or out of the team, who will have a bad word to say. We all loved and respected him. That showed over the four years – how much success we had.
“The job he did at Millwall was ridiculously under-rated, when you break it down. They had just been relegated from the Championship, then you get the euphoria of getting to the play-off final – but losing. Then you get promoted.
“I don’t know if it’s because he was only at Millwall that it went under the radar. But you see these more stylish coaches who do half the job that Chopper did and they are the best thing since sliced bread.
“He fully deserved a go at a so-called bigger club in Cardiff. There is going to be a lot said this season about who can keep their best players fit. If Cardiff do that and we finish above them then I think we’ll be right where we want to be, which is that top six.”
🔙 in business.
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) November 21, 2020
Harris has called for “more of the same” from his international goalscorers.
Both Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore were among the goals for Wales in their 3-1 win over Finland that earned them promotion to the top tier of Nations League football.
Harris was quick to congratulate both players on scoring on their home patch, but now wants them to do the same thing for the Bluebirds as he takes his side back to his old stamping ground.
“Seeing Harry and Kiefer scoring for Wales is massive and it lifts the whole group and the fan base. I just told them that I want more of the same from them this weekend,” said Harris.
With talisman Lee Tomlin out of action for a couple of months following groin surgery, a lot more pressure will fall on Wilson to provide the spark to get Cardiff back on track.
Having reached the play-offs last season, they are currently four points and six places behind Millwall in 15th place.