BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jimmy Abdou has only one regret from his time at Millwall – that he didn’t score more goals.
But it shows just how much the Lions fans’ favourite achieved during a decade with the South Londoners that he is forced to pick an area of his game which he was never renowned for.
Scrapper. Battler. Midfield tiger. Dynamo. Grafter. Any of those are apt descriptions of Abdou.
At a club where you have to earn the respect of the fans – and plenty of players have sunk without trace – the Frenchman saw his popularity soar.
Abdou was a free transfer pick up by then manager Kenny Jackett in July 2008 after rejecting a new deal at Plymouth Argyle.
Now comes a testimonial against German side VfL Bochum tomorrow at The Den.
“I’d be lying if I said I would spend 10 years at Millwall when I came here,” he told the South London Press. “It was a new challenge, a new start. Kenny Jackett really wanted me there. I wanted to come and enjoy my football.
“It wasn’t always easy but I found the right way to stay longer.
“To get a testimonial means a lot. It will be my last game at The Den. For me, it is the perfect way to leave. I love the club and can say goodbye before I go back home.
“I’ve never been the kind of person who can show their emotion, but there will definitely be a lot there. This is going to be different, something big for me and my family.”
Abdou’s three children – Ilyas, nine, Inaya, five, and new-born Sohan – will be at this weekend’s match. Other recent Lions stalwarts to get testimonials include Tony Craig, Alan Dunne and Paul Robinson. Asked if he was ever close to moving on, Abdou references Jackett’s decision to step down in the summer of 2013.
“It was a turning point for the club in general. He brought me there and I played five seasons under him. It was a big change. But in the same way it was a new start for me – a new manager [Ian Holloway] and a new style of play.
“I had to work through a transition period, it was hard at the time. But I always felt confident that I belonged at Millwall enough to stay on. I felt happy there. I felt like I was at home right until the end at Millwall – even the season where I did not play a lot [2016-17].
“I’d say Kenny was the favourite manager I played under. When I came to Millwall I learned a lot – to stay here as long as I did is down to him. I understood the way he wanted me to play and the way the club generally wants the players to perform week in and week out.
“But I’d also say Neil Harris as well. I played with him and he is a great friend. They are both managers I have been successful with.”
Abdou’s first season in SE16 saw him score three times – his most prolific campaign of his career. He saved the best to last, his 74th-minute equaliser at Elland Road clinching a 2-1 aggregate win over Leeds in the League One play-off final.
Millwall would go on to lose 3-2 to Scunthorpe at Wembley but erase that heartache by beating Swindon at the same venue nine months later.
“I’d say the goal against Leeds was a turning point in my career,” said Abdou. “I had so many highlights but I didn’t score many goals and it brought us to the final, it is something I will never forget.
“I definitely should have scored more goals when I had such a long career. That’s about the only thing that could have been better from me at Millwall.”
Abdou had not been such a pivotal figure in his second promotion with the Lions in 2017, only being drafted back into the starting line-up ahead of Ben Thompson for the final four matches. The pressure was firmly on Harris’ side as they endured a nerve-jangling final day of the regulation campaign at Bristol Rovers even before a two-legged tie against Scunthorpe United.
Abdou played a typically disciplined role against Bradford at Wembley as Steve Morison’s header sent the Lions up, once again wiping away disappointment from a year ago when they lost to Barnsley.
“I didn’t play that much in the second half of the season but I was called back for Bristol,” said Abdou. “It was pressure but I enjoy it. I took at it as a last chance to prove I can still give something to the squad and team.
“The first time we got promoted I think for myself and the whole squad we felt there was no other way [against Swindon] – we have to win. We only considered winning.
“The second time I didn’t know if I would be involved in the last few games but you train and keep fit. To go up was something big, to get back to the Championship.”
Ilyas is a Millwall fan and Abdou expects to be back at his old stomping ground in the future.
“I have lived in England for 11 years – you can’t just switch off and leave,” he said. “My kids have had to leave friends.
“We’re going to have the opportunity to come back.
“I saw the team a lot last season and I still feel it is on the way up. No-one really talks about Millwall and they seem to under-rate them. Neil Harris is doing a great job and I have confidence he will keep that going and grow the club as much as he can.
“I don’t see why the team can’t replicate what they did last season or even do better.”
Abdou re-signed for hometown club Martigues this summer.
“I had the opportunity to maybe stay a few more years in England. I hadn’t planned anything months before. With this testimonial it felt like a chance to finish on a high.”
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS
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