Benik Afobe: 'Arsenal were sometimes wrong to loan me – but now I'm only thinking of Wolves'
Hi Benik. How are you enjoying life at Molineux?
It’s been great. Everyone here has been really welcoming and made me feel at home right away. It was tough moving clubs in January because the team have settled and they have their aims for the season, but I was able to hit the ground running – I scored on my debut and it’s just got better and better. I’m really enjoying my football at the moment.
You’ve formed a cracking mini team with Nouha Dicko and Bakary Sako. Does it help having a good relationship off the pitch too?
Yeah, definitely. I was friends with them even before joining the club, but I’m also friendly with everyone in the camp. There isn’t only one group of people I interact with at Wolves. They’re a good young bunch of lads who’ve helped me settle in. As for on the pitch, it just seemed to click instantly. We always look to combine with one another to make things happen, and hopefully that can continue for the rest of the season.
There seems to have been a big change in the relationship between fans and players at Wolves. Like that new song [Pilot’s 1974 hit Magic], for example...
[Laughs] Of course! I’m not too familiar with how it was before I joined but since I‘ve been here the fans have been great – they haven’t booed one player. Even the little things, like positive Twitter messages even after a loss, are great. The players really appreciate it. The manager [Kenny Jackett] always reminds us just how lucky we are to have such fans behind us.
You seem to have perfected a dance celebration between you, Nouha and Bakary...
We were watching the Africa Cup of Nations and we saw Ghana doing this celebration. When Sako came back we were talking about it – then all of sudden after I scored against Bournemouth we just decided to go ahead and do it. Since then it’s just been expected every time one of us scores! [FFT: So who’s the worst mover?] A few of the players have dodgy moves! When we do the warm-up, Kevin McDonald always attempts to dance to one song and it only makes me laugh constantly...
It's quite embarrassing to be honest, but I always listen to Eye of the Tiger to pump me up...
Do you have a certain song you like to listen to before a game?
It's quite embarrassing to be honest! I always listen to Eye of the Tiger to pump me up. I’ve always done it, though, so it’s not something I’d change in the future.
Kenny Jackett bossed you at Millwall for a bit too: was that a factor in joining?
Yeah, it was. I have always spoken highly of both Kenny and Joe Gallen, and I don’t have a bad word to say about them.
When I was at Millwall I was only 19, and they spoke to me daily and believed in me. Even when I got injured they kept in contact when I was back at Arsenal, and then when I was with Sheffield Wednesday too. So when Wolves came in for me it all added up.
You played for six clubs on loan before joining Wolves permanently. What did you gain from them?
The majority of my career has been spent on loan, so I learned so much during these spells away from Arsenal. I don’t see any of them as failures, but learning curves. There have been occasions where I was disappointed I wasn’t playing, of course. Maybe it was because it wasn’t the right time or for another reason, but that’s all in the past now and I have nothing bad to say about any of the former managers I worked under. MK Dons was definitely my best loan as I got myself back to scoring goals and I’m reaping the rewards from my own hard work.
I learned so much during my spells away from Arsenal. I don’t see any of them as failures, but learning curves
When you first joined MK Dons on loan, someone on Twitter declared they were underwhelmed by the signing but did a complete U-turn after you scored twice against Manchester United. Does proving people wrong motivate you?
I’ve never been upset about anything said about me, as all players will receive stick at some point. I will always give 100 per cent but I’m a very relaxed person.
If the fans take to me then that’s great, but if they don’t then I have to prove to them what I can do. It’s always good to prove people wrong, though. I just concentrate on my game.
You came through the ranks at Arsenal alongside players like Jack Wilshere. Do you still keep in contact with some of them?
I still speak to Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] and a few of the English lads, as my family live in Cockfosters which is very close to their training ground. I speak to Jack pretty much every day as he is a part of my life, but other players I don’t talk to as much just because I’m concentrating on Wolves and my own career at the moment. At the end of the season I will try to speak to them as much as possible. I made a lot of friends there – I was at Arsenal since the age of six so it is hard to keep up with it all.
Do you feel your progress at Arsenal was hindered because you went out on loan so often?
It depends really. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone on some of the loans. Not because I wasn’t good enough, but more for the fact that they’re about getting you ready and improving your game. When I was injured I went straight back out on loan right after, when I probably should have stayed and played reserve football. The loan has to suit a player and it has to come at the right time in their career, but I do believe they help a lot of young English players.
When I was injured I went straight back out on loan right after, when I probably should have stayed and played reserve football
Who was the best player you played with at Arsenal? Who did you look up to as kid?
I looked up to Thierry Henry and Ronaldo. In terms of Arsenal and the players I played alongside, probably Robin van Persie. I’ve been lucky enough to play with some unbelievable players – Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song. Even Samir Nasri, though I don’t think many Arsenal fans will want me to say that!
You learn a lot from them at a young age. I was also lucky enough to train with Brazil once, and Ronaldinho – he was unbelievable. It goes to show that even if you’re far away from being that good, you’re actually not as far as you may think. We are all on the same pitch.
In the future, if Arsenal came calling again would you snap their arm off at the chance or be reluctant for them letting you go?
You never know. I’ve seen interviews of players saying they would never go back to this team or that team, but I don’t like to wish anything on my future. I believe what happens in my life happens for a reason. I honestly couldn’t tell you what I’d do – I take it one season at a time.
What are your main aims for the future? Is England one of them?
Everyone wants to play for their country, and you see England giving a lot of chances to young players now. They’re now getting picked if they earn it. However, for me club football comes first currently and I want to get myself into the Premier League. It’s one step at a time.
For me club football comes first currently. I want to get myself into the Premier League
It’s Birmingham on Saturday, your first taste of a West Midlands derby...
I heard we are bringing 4,000 fans, so it’s going to be a big one. To be honest, every game we play now is considered big and we are trying to win all five of them. It’ll be an unbelievable atmosphere, though, and I can’t wait. Hopefully we can take the three points back home. [FFT: Prediction?] 3-0!
Wolves goal-getter Benik Afobe features in our Top 50 Football League Players. Get your hands on the May 2015 issue of FourFourTwo, then discuss our run-down on Twitter using the hashtag #FLtop50. This month’s magazine also examines whether Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp is poised to move to the Premier League, chats to Nacer Chadli, Simon Mignolet and Ryan Bertrand about the chase for Champions League qualification and meets the hardest player ever (that you’ve never heard of). Subscribe!