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Millwall boss admits he feared striker deal had slipped away…instead it was double delight as Hull midfielder arrived too

Gary Rowett has revealed that Benik Afobe turned down attractive Championship options to seal his Millwall return earlier this week.

The 29-year-old striker scored 13 goals in all competitions for the Lions last season before returning to parent club Stoke City.

And Afobe’s exploits for the South London club looked to have landed him a switch to Club Brugge, only for the transfer to collapse over the weekend.

Millwall moved quickly to secure the former Arsenal, Bournemouth and Wolves forward on a permanent deal until next summer.

Lions boss Rowett admitted he thought they had lost out on the services of Afobe.

“I’d been in discussion with Benik for a little bit about the potential to come back,” Rowett told the South London Press. “At one stage we thought it was very close to a similar deal to last season.

“There was interest from other clubs in the Championship – very good clubs – and then all of a sudden the European option became quite live. Benik let me know where it was at. It was a very exciting opportunity for him.

“Everybody kind of accepted that was going to happen and for three or four days we moved on to looking at other options – but then it came back on quite quickly. There was a real desire from both parties to get a deal and get it done. Benik was adamant that when one deal broke down then that [Millwall] was the place he wanted to come back.

“It’s very rare to get a club that thinks so highly of you, is so confident of getting the best out of you and has spent so much time with you over the years – sometimes that goes a long way, as well as the size of the club.

“We wanted to tie it up quickly before other clubs started jumping in. It was quite simple in the end because we all wanted the same thing – which was for Benik to come back

“You can see from the other players’ reactions that it’s a brilliant deal to get him back. My belief is he will be stronger again this season, for last year’s involvement with us.”

Nine of Afobe’s goals in the 2021-22 season came after January 1 and he seemed to grow in stature as he chained together the minutes.

It helped that he was working again under Rowett, who took him to Stoke in June 2018. That loan deal had an obligation to purchase for a reported £12million fee in the following transfer window.

Millwall boss admits he feared striker deal had slipped away…instead it was double delight as Hull midfielder arrived too
Millwall’s Murray Wallace (centre left) is congratulated by Millwall’s Benik Afobe (centre right) after he scored the first goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match at The Den, London. Picture date: Saturday December 4, 2021.

“I spoke to Benik towards the end of last season and I told him: ‘I look at your ability, character, personality and confidence – my expectation is that you’re a 15-20 goals-a-season scorer,” said the Millwall boss. “But what you perhaps underestimate is the impact on confidence of not scoring those goals for a few years – it probably did take him a little bit of time to settle again and get that feeling back.

“You saw with some of the little bits of skill towards the end of the season – I think it was the Barnsley game where he did the little dragback and backheel for Scottie Malone to cross it for Danny [McNamara] to score.

“There are very few strikers in this division who have his finishing ability. My job is to get that out of him all the time because I know he can do it, so why would I settle for 13 goals when I believe he can score more than that?

“He is better here – in a relaxed environment where he can play with confidence. A goalscorer needs chances and the aim for all our strikers is they need to create more for each other – the midfield need to create more for the strikers.

“Having been here for a season and then come back again it means players understand the runs you like to make.”

If there is a negative to Afobe’s move, it is that he will be a free agent at the start of July 2023.

“We’ve got aspirations and we have to do whatever deals we can for the here and now and then we’ve got deals, like Zian Flemming, that are for the long term. We have to find the right balance,” said Rowett.

“We’re not going to worry about next season before we have even started this one.”

Millwall made it a double swoop as they landed George Honeymoon. Hull City had taken up a 12-month contract extension earlier in the close season but the 27-year-old midfielder still made the move to SE16 for an undisclosed fee.

Millwall boss admits he feared striker deal had slipped away…instead it was double delight as Hull midfielder arrived too
Hull City’s George Honeyman during the Emirates FA Cup third round match at the MKM Stadium, Hull. Picture date: Saturday January 8, 2022.

Both additions flew out out to the Lions’ training camp in Ireland.

“He brings a lot of good attributes to the team,” said Rowett. “George is a running, attacking midfielder – whether that is a 10 or as a eight.

“He’s got energy and he presses really, really well. He works incredibly hard for the team but he also makes some brilliant runs into the box and arrives really well.

“There are a number of positions he can play – just like someone like Zian Flemming, who can play as a 10 or higher up as a striker. You need those options but also it is about having different types of players in the same position.

“George is a player I’ve admired for quite a while. He’s got great desire and looks like a winner on the pitch.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few people about George and they all said he is a great guy. He’s been a fabulous player for Hull and captained their side on a number of occasions.

“For me it was a no-brainer. When we found out there was a chance he could be available then we didn’t hesitate to explore it.

“George had a desire to be a part of something where he felt he could improve himself and conribute massively to the team. It all fitted nicely into place.”

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