Benik Afobe on ‘humble’ Millwall, good and bad dressing rooms – and never holding grudges

BENIK Afobe has got his mojo back and he doesn’t want the season to end.

That’s not only because if the campaign extends beyond this weekend it will mean Millwall are in the play-offs, but also because he’s in some of the best scoring form of his career.

Afobe, 29, has scored 13 goals this season, his best return since 2015-16 when he got 14 for Wolves and Bournemouth, four of them for the latter in the Premier League. He has scored six in his last eight games and nine in 2022.

After a season away in Turkey with Trabzonspor that followed a campaign when he didn’t feature much for Bristol City, Afobe, at 28, needed to find a home.

And he couldn’t have found a better one than Millwall and the “humble” environment at the club.

Afobe has played for 10 other clubs and admitted the atmospheres were not always good, with “gossip” or players not speaking to each other.

There is a completely different culture at Millwall.

“It’s been really good for me, a great fit, I’ve said it all along,” Afobe told NewsAtDen. “I took some time to get up and running which is quite normal. Last year I lacked confidence, I didn’t play. I racked up 28 appearances but they were all five or 10 minutes at the end of the game. I think I played the equivalent to 11 90 minutes and scored five goals. It wasn’t enough for me, and being away from home.

Benik Afobe is a hugely popular character

“To come back to Millwall, to come back to London, to come back to a manager that trusts and believes in me and, just by the off-chance, to come to a great changing room – because it could have been a poor changing room – it’s all been a great fit for me. And also to be injury-free.

“It’s been fantastic for me, I’ve really, really enjoyed it and I feel I’m in my best form now and the season is about to finish, which is a bit disappointing for me.

“But let’s wait and see, maybe we’ll have an extra three games after Saturday, we don’t know.”

Former Arsenal trainee Afobe’s other former clubs include Huddersfield, Reading, Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons.

“When you’ve played for 10 clubs in your career, not all 10 are going to be great,” Afobe said. “I’ve been in some changing rooms where the lads don’t talk, there are gossip games, like little kids. Maybe the manager doesn’t have a great relationship with the team so he’s quite distant.

“All these different problems happen but they don’t just happen in football, they happen in all jobs. It’s the norm. It’s life.

“But here, you can have lunch with anybody, you can room with anybody, you can speak to all the staff. Everybody is very humble and are working people. That’s why the season has been a success for us.

“At the start of the season if I had told anybody Millwall were going to finish in the top eight after last season, they probably would have said ‘no’. The Championship has been very strong this season, the quality has been good. The top six or seven haven’t really changed the whole season so for us to be in and around it is just a credit to Gary [Rowett] and his staff for the work that they’ve done at the club.”

The forward’s goals have helped the Lions challenge for the play-offs

Afobe faces one of his former clubs, Bournemouth, in a must-win final game of the season on Saturday. The former Arsenal forward joined the Cherries for £10million in January 2016 and scored three goals in his first four Premier League games.

Afobe scored six goals the following season but lost his place in the side the campaign after that and re-joined Wolves on loan in January 2018 before another £10million move back to Molineux in the summer.

Stoke, with Rowett in charge, paid £12million for him the following January -after he had spent the first half of the campaign on loan with the Potters – but he struggled there and after spells at Bristol City and Trabzonspor moved on loan to Millwall.

Afobe was asked if he thinks about the irony of helping the Lions finish above the Potters after Michael O’Neill offloaded him.

He replied: “No, no, no, I’ve not had one thought about Stoke or Bristol City or Bournemouth. I’m not that kind of person. I’ve never held a grudge in my life. I said before in an interview the ideal situation for me, having another year at Stoke, would be for Millwall and Stoke to both go up.

“For me, it was just about me, Benik Afobe, enjoying football again, bringing out the tricks, the flair, the goals, the assists. Just having a smile on my face again, that was the sole purpose of me coming to Millwall.

“I didn’t set myself any specific targets goals-wise, but I did say if I got around 15 goals playing for Millwall, who are on the average a mid-table team, I would take that.

“To be on 13 now with a game to go is not bad.”

The on-loan Stoke man is the top scorer this season

If Afobe manages to get to 15 goals this weekend, it will surely mean Millwall have a chance of finishing in the top six.

“We’re all happy, it’s been a positive season,” Afobe said. “But listen, it’s out of our hands. You know me, I’m a man of faith, it’s in God’s hands now.

“All we’ve got to worry about is trying to beat Bournemouth because that’s not going to be easy. All the other teams could lose but we could lose as well so it doesn’t really matter about what other people are doing.

“And, to be honest, even the talk in the changing room is, listen, it’s the last game of the season, you’re going to go away and have your six weeks with your family and friends, you want to win anyway. Even if you’ve been relegated.

“Look at Peterborough, Barnsley, when they play on Saturday they’re going to want to win as well. They’ll want a good send-off for the season, even though they’ve been relegated.

“It’s nothing to do with the play-offs, we just want to win the game in general anyway. It’s nothing like, ‘oh, we’re going to be extra up for it on Saturday’. No, this team is the most professional, honest bunch of lads I’ve ever played with.

“This being a game that could potentially put us fifth or sixth doesn’t mean anything for these boys. It means a lot to the club, of course, but they’re not going to change their mentality because their mentality has always been bang-on.

“We’ve had a very, very positive season considering we’ve had so many injuries in each position. No one’s really fancied us for the play-offs so to take it to the last day of the season, we’ve done outstanding. Gary and his staff have done outstanding.”

Image: Millwall FC 

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John Kelly