ZIAN FLEMMING is adding some Dutch courage to Millwall’s attempt to finally make it to the promised land.
Dubbed the ‘Bermondsey Bergkamp’, the 24 year old is already a fan favourite down at The Den since his £1.7m club-record move from Fortuna Sittard in the summer.
Flemming’s eight Championship goals – including a hat-trick away at Preston before the World Cup break – has Millwall in with a chance to move up to 4th tomorrow with a win at Sunderland.
And after snubbing European clubs to join the Lions, the Amsterdam-born attacker believes Gary Rowett’s side are ready to stay in the playoffs.
He told SunSport: “Millwall are a club with authenticity with raw crowds.
“It is an old club with passionate fans and you can see it at the training ground and the stadium.
“It is all just simple and I feel like it is a club built on passion and hard work.
“I joined because there was a solid foundation of 8th- and 9th-placed finishes and the plan is to make that step into the top six and I am part of that plan.
“With my help and the other signings, as well as the rest of the team, I want to get in the top six.”
The Amsterdam-born attacker was coached by Bergkamp alongside the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Donyell Malen in Ajax’s academy.
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The comparisons with Arsenal legend Denis Bergkamp come from Flemming also not being considered a traditional number 10.
Yet, despite having a football education most other Championship players could only dream of, Flemming’s physical nature has seen him thrive in just five months in England.
Flemming explained: “When you leave Ajax you realise how special it was, but I was a kid just enjoying myself.
“Bergkamp was my gaffer at the U12s. I knew his name but I was too young to really know him.
“So when he became our gaffer our parents had to tell and show us how big he is.
“We needed some education because it was before our time.
“I have seen a lot of his goals because luckily we have YouTube.
“He is a different kind of player who was extremely stylish and technical, whereas I am more physical and goal oriented.”
Despite a fast start to life at Millwall, it was not all plain sailing for Flemming after growing issues halted his progress as a teenager.
But after fighting his way back into Ajax’s second side, he adopted his famous arm flex goal celebration which sees him adopt Millwall’s ‘We Fear No Foe’ mantra by paying homage to UFC bruiser Nate Diaz.
He said: “I was not growing but at 17 I started growing quickly which caused problems with my body.
“In the end I was not able to train for some weeks. I was struggling for like two seasons in a row.
“I grew like 20cm and when I got back I tried to do what I was doing before but I could not do it.
“I had to learn how to use my body again. I worked hard on my coordination. I was ready to go again but they kept picking other players.
“When I finally got my chance and started scoring I started doing the celebration symbolising Nate Diaz in the UFC.
“I remember his face was all bloodied and he won. So I saw it as a metaphor and a symbol for me.”
Flemming’s fighter mentality was also moulded by his decision to leave Ajax’s prestigious academy to kickstart his career.
After excelling in Ajax’s second team, scoring 10 goals in 21 appearances as the side won the Dutch second league for the first time, he secured a free transfer to Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle in 2018.
A tough start saw him loaned back down to the second division where he became NEC Nijmegen’s top scorer which secured a permanent move to Fortuna Sittard.
He notched 12 goals and seven assists in his debut season, leading the club to an 11th-place finish before signing off last year with a final-day goal to keep them up.
Flemming said: “I could tell there was no space to move up to the first team at Ajax, so it was logical to make that step because otherwise you are just stuck in the second team.
“Being in the second division was a step up to the real world because it is very physical but I was still at Ajax.
“At my other clubs I had to think more defensively, because at Ajax you would always have possession.
“But my mindset has not changed, I want to be the whole package. My main focus is scoring goals.”
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