Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s Hair to Win ratio

  • The Fighting Cock is a forum for fans of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Here you can discuss Spurs latest matches, our squad, tactics and any transfer news surrounding the club. Registration gives you access to all our forums (including 'Off Topic' discussion) and removes most of the adverts (you can remove them all via an account upgrade). You're here now, you might as well...

    Get involved!

Latest Spurs videos from Sky Sports

Rose was 2 players, you had AVB Rose the guy who never tracked back and looked disinterested and Poch Rose the player who never stopped running and driving forward with boundless energy. He was good in the right environment.

Benny didn’t have the out and out work rate of Poch Rose but he was so classy on the ball.
Rose wasn't the first, nor the last, player AVB alienated, TBF.

I think the injury really derailed Danny. With his known mental health issues it did a lot of damage seemingly - being injured and away from the squad and seeing Walker flourish and get rewarded with a megabucks move, and still not getting as much stick as Danny got even in the good times even though Walker was being a twat behind closed doors. If he'd never gotten hurt I think things are wholly different for him...just a damn bad break.

But you're 100% right about BAE. When he was on it, he was on it . Looked like everything you could want in a fullback and then some.
 
Loved Disco Benny, one of my favourites.
Can some kind person who has access copy the interview please, so I can read it all.
Mercy buckets :)
Benoit Assou-Ekotto — he’s the one who used to not like football and only played for the money, right?

Well, kind of, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

During his career, Assou-Ekotto made no secret of the fact that money and providing for one’s family motivated footballers — as he points out is the case with any job. In an extraordinary interview with The Guardian in 2010, Assou-Ekotto said that “All people, everyone, when they go to a job, it’s for the money. So I don’t understand why, when I said I play for the money, people were shocked. Oh, he’s a mercenary. Every player is like that. It’s a good, good job and I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion.”

Eleven years on and with his playing career over, Assou-Ekotto, 37, remains as candid as ever — a fascinating counterpoint to what he feels are the bland, dishonest platitudes given by many in his old profession.

Over the course of an entertaining couple of hours, Assou-Ekotto explains to The Athletic via Zoom that admitting that money was a motivating factor during his career does not mean he didn’t enjoy it or take it seriously. He still worked exceptionally hard and at times took a huge amount of pleasure from it. He also says that his view is universal among footballers — it’s just that no one is prepared to admit it.

“Did the other players agree with me? I’m sure, I’m sure, 200 per cent,” he says. “Listen, when your agent calls and says, I have a club for you, the first question is: ‘How much?’ It’s business.”

What frustrated Assou-Ekotto was the hypocrisy, the deception of players saying it was about the badge not the money when their actions clearly showed otherwise.

“I don’t think it helped me being so honest, but I am like that,” he says. “It’s good for business to say, ‘I love the club, I love the fans, blah blah blah… oh shit (I’ve moved to) another club’. I’m not like that.”

In retirement, Assou-Ekotto has rediscovered his love for football, the joy he had when starting the game as a child. He plays for amateur side SC Saint-Nicolas-lez-Arras, a team local to his home in the north of France, mainly for the veterans side. Sometimes he plays for the first team, but he says he doesn’t connect in the same way with the younger players.

“Of course I play for free!” he says. “I like football even more when it’s amateur. Sometimes when I played professionally I didn’t know really what was going on — for example West Ham and Aston Villa wear the same kind of shirt and sometimes I would go there and be like, ‘OK, it’s Aston Villa’ and I’d have to be told, ‘No, it’s West Ham’.

“But (as an) amateur, I know on Monday who I’m going to play Sunday. Because it’s fun to play. So maybe they pay me with something Tottenham couldn’t pay me — happiness.”

Screenshot-2022-01-18-at-16.42.jpg

Assou-Ekotto speaks to The Athletic via Zoom
That said, Assou-Ekotto still experienced a fair amount of joy while at Spurs. Having joined in 2006 under Martin Jol, Assou-Ekotto became a reliable and occasionally thrilling left-back who made more than 200 appearances for the club. He was an important part of the side that finished fourth in 2010 and 2012 and reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2011.

Off the pitch, Assou-Ekotto made a big impact as well. Keen to immerse himself in the Tottenham community, he often walked along the High Road with fans to White Hart Lane on matchdays (taking the tube from his apartment in Canary Wharf), and met with residents during the 2011 London riots to hear about their experiences and show solidarity. “It’s important to feel with the fans that we are not apart from them,” he says. “We just play football.”

At Spurs, though, he did a lot more than that and he has plenty of stories from his nine years in north London. From fighting with Rafael van der Vaart in the dressing room (a superstar Assou-Ekotto had typically not heard of when the Dutchman joined Tottenham) and a memorable mid-season trip to Dubai, to telling Andre Villas-Boas he was no fan of his methods on the training ground.


Assou-Ekotto does the Zoom equivalent of bounding into our interview.

“Fantastique,” he says happily as he unmutes himself and instantly lightens the mood. His hair is grown out rather than in braids, and he is content with his life that mainly involves playing football and running regularly (normally 10ks, his maximum was a half-marathon), relaxing — he says he likes to “chill a lot”, and trying to be a “super dad” to his seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.

Management and punditry are currently not on the agenda — the former because of the challenge of connecting with the younger generation, the latter because he doesn’t want to be forced to say something sensational or unnecessarily harsh. “Commentary is more about ego than about football.”

He is also not pursuing a career in pornography, something he has said he referenced as a joke while at Spurs but was taken seriously and made public by his former manager Harry Redknapp.

After settling into his seat, Assou-Ekotto grins broadly and asks: “You know Daniel (Levy)? If it’s OK for me to come back, I will come back. I don’t ask for a lot of money. £1,000 a week is OK,” he says, laughing.

It’s an appropriate place to start for a player who has always been so candid in his view that footballers are as mercenary as those in any other profession.

At his peak, he was one of the Premier League’s most solid full-backs, but he was never really talked about in those terms and perhaps not taken as seriously as he should have been — and it is tempting to wonder whether the reason was his candid nature. Assou-Ekotto was a very difficult defender to get past; front-footed, committed and extremely fit. In the 2009 Carling Cup final, he did an excellent man-marking job on Cristiano Ronaldo with a performance of impeccable concentration and controlled aggression. With his big hair and big personality, Assou-Ekotto was a difficult player to ignore, but perhaps his talents were overshadowed by his unorthodoxy.

GettyImages-168017570-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Reflecting on his time as a player, as well as saying other players “200 per cent” agreed with his claim that money is a major motivating factor, Assou-Ekotto says he didn’t try to convince anyone to be as honest publicly as he was.

“It’s good for them for business to do that,” he says. “It’s up to them. If they don’t want to be honest, it’s their problem.”

As for the reaction from inside Spurs when he spoke publicly about these issues, there was a rebuke. “The players didn’t say anything, but maybe one coach said it’s not cool to speak like that. I said, ‘I don’t need to lie’.”

“Maybe some clubs don’t want to buy a player who plays for the money. Even if everyone (else) is there for the money, even if the owner of the club wants to make money. Maybe in 50 to 100 years, people will understand.

“It’s not a regret but I would like to see if I would have had the same career without being honest.

“It would be boring, definitely. Even the hair (affected perceptions). I spoke with an Italian club, a stupid Italian club — they said, ‘We like you but it’s difficult for us to explain to the fans that we’re signing a player with your hair’. Even this. I would like to see what would happen in my career without being extravagant with my hair.”

Assou-Ekotto believes there was “200 per cent” a racial element to this, and it was part of the reason he wanted to play in the Premier League.

“That’s why I moved to England,” he says. “The mentality is completely different. Maybe some people complain about England, but come live in France and believe me you will understand. But, in England, I think you are more cool about everything.”

Moving to Spurs from Lens in 2006 proved to be a very smart decision for the club and the player. Though it took a while for him to get going. Under both Jol and then Juande Ramos, Assou-Ekotto felt undervalued.

“(With Jol) when we were in trouble on the pitch or tactically it was always our fault — (fellow new signing Didier) Zokora or me.”

Assou-Ekotto didn’t confront Jol as his own English was “shit”, and things didn’t improve when Jol was replaced by Ramos in October 2007.

Ramos disapproved of the defender’s aggression in training, fearing it risked injuring his team-mates. Assou-Ekotto insists he never tackled dangerously, and that he was backed by the then director of football Damien Comolli that this sort of approach was required at a time when teams like Bolton and Blackburn were making the league extremely physical. “This man (Ramos) was not for England,” Assou-Ekotto says.

He also wasn’t helped by injuries that restricted him to a total of 27 appearances in his first two seasons. It took the arrival of Redknapp in October 2008 to really energise Assou-Ekotto at Spurs. Five months later came that Carling Cup final when he battled so well against Ronaldo, and he quickly established himself as an automatic pick.

GettyImages-85165040-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Assou-Ekotto loved that Redknapp wouldn’t treat the players like children. “Redknapp knew that we were men, that we were grown up,” he says. “Do what you want, just be good for the game. You have to know as a professional that if you go out on Friday you won’t be good on Saturday. You can go to the restaurant but remember there is a game on Saturday.

“I’m not his kid. That’s why that Tottenham team fought a lot for each other, because he gave us that responsibility. You can be a good manager tactically but if nobody likes you then nobody will fight for you. We’ll fight for you if we love you.

“It’s better to be less good tactically but to be a good man-manager. Checking everyone’s OK and if someone has a problem, saying, ‘OK we are going to sort it out’.

“One day I went to see him and was like, ‘I want to stay inside. I don’t feel great today — I have some problems in my mind’. He would be like, ‘You know what, come back in two days. Stay inside for two days’. And when he gives you this favour, you as a professional and as a man can see that this manager understands my problem. He’s cool with me. The minimum I can give back is to be the best for him at the weekend.”

Assou-Ekotto also appreciated the fact that Redknapp wasn’t one for detailed tactical instructions. “When Harry joined, my English was not fantastic and when he spoke with his accent I used to understand nothing!” Assou-Ekotto says. “So maybe he used to speak about tactics but I’d just say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool, let me on the pitch’. He was like, ‘Give the best of yourself and then I won’t have to see you after the game’.

“He was definitely my best manager at Spurs.”

The positive environment Redknapp fostered at Spurs led to the team finishing fourth in 2010 and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. “It was a fantastic thing for Tottenham, for the supporters,” Assou-Ekotto says. “We opened the door for the players today.”

The season had started with a 2-1 win against Liverpool, a game in which Assou-Ekotto scored a sensational long-range goal. And it was moments like these that he says make a mockery of the notion that he played football only for the money.

“Now I realise football was a fantastic experience,” he says. “No one can explain to you what it’s like to be on the pitch with 40,000 people and to score a goal or be part of a good team.

“To score a goal, especially your first goal for the club. You have 40,000 people who stand up for you because you’ve scored a goal. They make noise like I’d never heard.”

GettyImages-89824863-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Back to 2010, and ahead of the next season, Spurs helped make their squad Champions League-ready by signing Van der Vaart, fresh from helping Holland reach the World Cup final.

Assou-Ekotto, despite having played against him at the tournament with Cameroon, wasn’t familiar with Spurs’ big-name signing from Real Madrid.

“When he came to Tottenham, I didn’t know who he was,” Assou-Ekotto says, laughing. “He is from Madrid? He said hello to everyone in the team and I said hello. I said to one of the players, ‘Who is he?’ And we took the team photo.”

Yet some of Assou-Ekotto’s former team-mates think he benefited from stepping outside the football bubble. “Maybe he was so good because he didn’t take it that seriously,” Darren Bent said in 2020. And the man himself believes you can be totally committed without being too emotional. “The way I think is I think the best way,” he says. “I didn’t care who I was going to play. I’m going to beat you, I’m going to bully you, I’m going to be the best. Because sometimes a player can say he’s very skilful and you’ll think about his game too much before the game.”

It’s an attitude that would seem old-fashioned in the modern-day footballing world of data and video analysis, but Assou-Ekotto insists it worked for him. “It’s going to be hard if we’re not relaxed. So we’re going to be cool — there’s no point being tired before the game or thinking too much about it.”

As for Van der Vaart, Assou-Ekotto enjoyed the kind of relationship with the Dutchman that he wanted from his team-mates: one that was honest, which could spill over into being confrontational if needs be, but was based on mutual respect. “Sometimes you can work with a partner who is fake for six months to a year but then after a few years he explodes and says, ‘I don’t like that’,” he says. “You have to say it from day one, and then no more problems.”

With Van der Vaart, Assou-Ekotto recalls: “We actually had a fight in the dressing room once about free kicks. He had an expectation about that, and after that we became even more close. On the Sunday I had the fight with him, then a few days later he gives me the ball and I score against Everton. He was happy and we were close.”

The team in general shared this closeness and, looking back, Assou-Ekotto can’t believe how far the group pushed it in the name of team bonding. He laughs at the team going to a warm-weather training camp in Dubai in between the two last-16 Champions League legs against AC Milan.

“My agent thought we were crazy when I said we were going to Dubai just to play a bit of football and to enjoy ourselves.

“That’s why it was fantastic. Because we were allowed to go to clubs, to drink. The manager said, ‘Enjoy it but don’t be in the press. You come back from the club, you go to training and then you sleep’.

“The whole team went. That’s why I tell you I was very good in training because I don’t go to clubs and I don’t drink!

“But then we came back and knocked Milan out. That’s why this Champions League was fantastic because we played it like it was a normal thing.

“And when you like your team-mates you want to fight for them.”

Assou-Ekotto was especially close with Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, and before that Zokora. He instantly warmed to Defoe when the striker spoke to him in the French patois he had picked up from the St Lucian side of his family.

“When we met I didn’t know it was Jermain Defoe,” Assou-Ekotto says. “And he starts to speak the patois. He said, ‘Ah, in St Lucia we speak a little bit of French’. I say, ‘I like when a man makes effort to speak French’. Cool, cool, cool.”

GettyImages-138019599-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
On the pitch, Assou-Ekotto developed a good relationship with the emerging Gareth Bale on the left-hand side. It was also an injury to Assou-Ekotto at the start of 2010 that paved the way for Bale to finally become a first-team regular, doing so as a replacement left-back. When Assou-Ekotto returned, Bale, having proved himself to be at the level required, moved up to the wing and never looked back.

“He didn’t speak a lot,” Assou-Ekotto says. “But we understood without having to speak too much. If I didn’t cross well he would have to take my place at left-back!”

Assou-Ekotto also enjoyed a good understanding with Luka Modric, who was always available for a pass when the left-back was in possession. “Luka was one of the best players,” he says. “When he signed for Tottenham, we played a pre-season friendly against Norwich and one of their players came from behind him and took the man and the ball. Luka fell on the pitch and was like, ‘Ooh la la, this is so difficult’. I thought maybe this man is not ready for the Premier League.

“A few months later I thought, ‘OK, this man is ready’.”

Modric left in the summer of 2012, as did Redknapp, spelling the beginning of the end for Assou-Ekotto’s Tottenham career.

He was replaced by Andre Villas-Boas, who was 34 and fresh from a bruising nine months at Chelsea.

“He was young, and still learning,” Assou-Ekotto says. “I think the problem was when you’ve won the Europa League (at Porto) and you come to Tottenham, even if Chelsea was not a great experience for him, you still think your ideas are the best, and you would die for them.

“But, believe me, it wasn’t just me who didn’t enjoy his training.”

One training exercise that Assou-Ekotto — and he says others — found particularly odd was a game involving three teams and three goals, and in his view insufficient explanation. “When you receive the ball — boom — you turn and shoot and score in either the goal on the left or on the right,” Assou-Ekotto says. “No idea! No one understands why. I am not against playing with three teams and three goals if you explain to us why. But no one used to enjoy it and when you don’t enjoy the manager who does the sessions, you don’t want to fight for him.

“I felt he didn’t want to listen to anyone. I’d been there a long time and when I spoke to him, he listened but he didn’t really listen at all. In my opinion, he was without experience and used to think he was the best. But he was not.”

After making only 22 appearances in Villas-Boas’s first campaign, Assou-Ekotto made his frustrations clear during a pre-season tour of Asia in July 2013. Assou-Ekotto knew Villas-Boas wanted to move him on and was aware the time had come to leave Tottenham.

Before going Assou-Ekotto explained why he felt the atmosphere had become so joyless at the club, and said he thought the team’s midfielders needed to be better at finding the full-backs in space, and that Villas-Boas’s job as the manager was to do more to improve the players.

GettyImages-678754828-scaled.jpg

Despite making his 200th appearance for Spurs under Villas-Boas, Assou-Ekotto fell out of favour (Photo: Getty Images)
Reinforcing the point, he referenced the man who antagonised Villas-Boas the most — his former boss Jose Mourinho, whom Villas-Boas had publicly fallen out with.

“I said, ‘After what I’m about to say, you won’t like me forever’,” Assou-Ekotto says. “I said, ‘Look, Jose Mourinho made Samuel Eto’o play left-back’. And I think for him that was it.”

Assou-Ekotto was loaned to Redknapp’s QPR for the 2013-14 season but did message Villas-Boas when he was sacked by Spurs that December. The pair exchanged friendly texts (Assou-Ekotto even called him, non-sarcastically, a “genius” in one — “tactically he was good”) and he certainly doesn’t hold any ill-will towards his former manager, even though things didn’t work out between them.

Assou-Ekotto returned to Spurs for the 2014-15 season, but he was never part of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans and was made to train on his own. Assou-Ekotto, by then into his thirties, had “zero problems” with Pochettino, but thinks that having to do solo gym work and eat his meals with the youth team was an unfair way for his nine years at the club to end.

After leaving Spurs, Assou-Ekotto experienced a big let-down. He finished his career in France with Saint-Etienne and then Metz, but never felt the same buzz that he had enjoyed in the Premier League. He played his last professional game at 33, retiring in 2018, and says: “When I left Tottenham, I didn’t really enjoy football anymore. When you retire you say, ‘Yeah, definitely, I was passionate about the Premier League’.”


Assou-Ekotto’s career was not only defined by his time at Spurs. He is a proud Cameroonian, and recently returned to his home country for the latter stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Despite growing up in France, he was only ever going to play for Cameroon (his father moved from the West African country to France as a teenager), and represented his country at two World Cups — where he admits even he got nervous.

“You sleep before the game and you can be sure all of Cameroon is going to watch you, and all of Africa is going to watch you,” he says. “I don’t feel stress before games but I have to admit before World Cup games I was thinking ‘Tomorrow – no mistakes. Tomorrow is very important not only for you, but for the whole country, for your family, for Africa’.”

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was especially emotional, but it all became too much for Cameroon four years later in Brazil when the team capitulated. After Alex Song’s bizarre red card for elbowing Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic in the back, Assou-Ekotto headbutted his team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo. Assou-Ekotto’s reaction was typically phlegmatic. “It came out of frustration,” he says. “He took the ball and wanted to skin one or two players. I told him to think about the team, not just himself.”

GettyImages-450556390-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Having now retired, Assou-Ekotto does miss the profession that was supposedly only ever a job. He watches Premier League matches, especially Tottenham’s, and says he misses “the intensity of the game”.

“I really enjoyed playing in the Premier League because when I played in Ligue 1 you can’t give contact, give a tackle, you can do nothing. In the Premier League you can do everything, which is why I enjoyed it.

“I want to play again in the Premier League but I know I’m too old for this. Sometimes I watch a Premier League game and I think ‘if only’.”

Instead he contents himself with playing amateur football, and making sure he’s fit enough to avoid being beaten by youngsters almost half his age: “I cannot play with the young people and have someone skin me or push me. No chance! That’s why I run a lot to keep fit and do the gym.”

Assou-Ekotto still has a number of friends from his days as a professional, including the former Liverpool and Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje, but he is far removed from the football bubble.

The sport is more about money than ever before, he feels, but even with football’s problems, his fondness for Tottenham remains.

“It’s cool if they (the fans) loved me but, you know, since I left I’ve never been back,” he says. “One day I will come back with my kids. I hope one or two fans will remember me — I will keep my hair.

“The thing is you’re not a Tottenham player when you sign, you become a Tottenham player after a few games, once you’ve kicked a few players from Woolwich.”

So could the self-proclaimed mercenary have ever signed for Woolwich if they offered enough money?

“No, you can’t go to Woolwich and say, ‘Cool I’ve come here to earn more money’,” he replies.

“Sometimes there are things more important than money.”
 

Mrs Perryman

Supporter
I'm a Cockney Malteser 👑
Benoit Assou-Ekotto — he’s the one who used to not like football and only played for the money, right?

Well, kind of, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

During his career, Assou-Ekotto made no secret of the fact that money and providing for one’s family motivated footballers — as he points out is the case with any job. In an extraordinary interview with The Guardian in 2010, Assou-Ekotto said that “All people, everyone, when they go to a job, it’s for the money. So I don’t understand why, when I said I play for the money, people were shocked. Oh, he’s a mercenary. Every player is like that. It’s a good, good job and I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion.”

Eleven years on and with his playing career over, Assou-Ekotto, 37, remains as candid as ever — a fascinating counterpoint to what he feels are the bland, dishonest platitudes given by many in his old profession.

Over the course of an entertaining couple of hours, Assou-Ekotto explains to The Athletic via Zoom that admitting that money was a motivating factor during his career does not mean he didn’t enjoy it or take it seriously. He still worked exceptionally hard and at times took a huge amount of pleasure from it. He also says that his view is universal among footballers — it’s just that no one is prepared to admit it.

“Did the other players agree with me? I’m sure, I’m sure, 200 per cent,” he says. “Listen, when your agent calls and says, I have a club for you, the first question is: ‘How much?’ It’s business.”

What frustrated Assou-Ekotto was the hypocrisy, the deception of players saying it was about the badge not the money when their actions clearly showed otherwise.

“I don’t think it helped me being so honest, but I am like that,” he says. “It’s good for business to say, ‘I love the club, I love the fans, blah blah blah… oh shit (I’ve moved to) another club’. I’m not like that.”

In retirement, Assou-Ekotto has rediscovered his love for football, the joy he had when starting the game as a child. He plays for amateur side SC Saint-Nicolas-lez-Arras, a team local to his home in the north of France, mainly for the veterans side. Sometimes he plays for the first team, but he says he doesn’t connect in the same way with the younger players.

“Of course I play for free!” he says. “I like football even more when it’s amateur. Sometimes when I played professionally I didn’t know really what was going on — for example West Ham and Aston Villa wear the same kind of shirt and sometimes I would go there and be like, ‘OK, it’s Aston Villa’ and I’d have to be told, ‘No, it’s West Ham’.

“But (as an) amateur, I know on Monday who I’m going to play Sunday. Because it’s fun to play. So maybe they pay me with something Tottenham couldn’t pay me — happiness.”

Screenshot-2022-01-18-at-16.42.jpg

Assou-Ekotto speaks to The Athletic via Zoom
That said, Assou-Ekotto still experienced a fair amount of joy while at Spurs. Having joined in 2006 under Martin Jol, Assou-Ekotto became a reliable and occasionally thrilling left-back who made more than 200 appearances for the club. He was an important part of the side that finished fourth in 2010 and 2012 and reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2011.

Off the pitch, Assou-Ekotto made a big impact as well. Keen to immerse himself in the Tottenham community, he often walked along the High Road with fans to White Hart Lane on matchdays (taking the tube from his apartment in Canary Wharf), and met with residents during the 2011 London riots to hear about their experiences and show solidarity. “It’s important to feel with the fans that we are not apart from them,” he says. “We just play football.”

At Spurs, though, he did a lot more than that and he has plenty of stories from his nine years in north London. From fighting with Rafael van der Vaart in the dressing room (a superstar Assou-Ekotto had typically not heard of when the Dutchman joined Tottenham) and a memorable mid-season trip to Dubai, to telling Andre Villas-Boas he was no fan of his methods on the training ground.


Assou-Ekotto does the Zoom equivalent of bounding into our interview.

“Fantastique,” he says happily as he unmutes himself and instantly lightens the mood. His hair is grown out rather than in braids, and he is content with his life that mainly involves playing football and running regularly (normally 10ks, his maximum was a half-marathon), relaxing — he says he likes to “chill a lot”, and trying to be a “super dad” to his seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.

Management and punditry are currently not on the agenda — the former because of the challenge of connecting with the younger generation, the latter because he doesn’t want to be forced to say something sensational or unnecessarily harsh. “Commentary is more about ego than about football.”

He is also not pursuing a career in pornography, something he has said he referenced as a joke while at Spurs but was taken seriously and made public by his former manager Harry Redknapp.

After settling into his seat, Assou-Ekotto grins broadly and asks: “You know Daniel (Levy)? If it’s OK for me to come back, I will come back. I don’t ask for a lot of money. £1,000 a week is OK,” he says, laughing.

It’s an appropriate place to start for a player who has always been so candid in his view that footballers are as mercenary as those in any other profession.

At his peak, he was one of the Premier League’s most solid full-backs, but he was never really talked about in those terms and perhaps not taken as seriously as he should have been — and it is tempting to wonder whether the reason was his candid nature. Assou-Ekotto was a very difficult defender to get past; front-footed, committed and extremely fit. In the 2009 Carling Cup final, he did an excellent man-marking job on Cristiano Ronaldo with a performance of impeccable concentration and controlled aggression. With his big hair and big personality, Assou-Ekotto was a difficult player to ignore, but perhaps his talents were overshadowed by his unorthodoxy.

GettyImages-168017570-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Reflecting on his time as a player, as well as saying other players “200 per cent” agreed with his claim that money is a major motivating factor, Assou-Ekotto says he didn’t try to convince anyone to be as honest publicly as he was.

“It’s good for them for business to do that,” he says. “It’s up to them. If they don’t want to be honest, it’s their problem.”

As for the reaction from inside Spurs when he spoke publicly about these issues, there was a rebuke. “The players didn’t say anything, but maybe one coach said it’s not cool to speak like that. I said, ‘I don’t need to lie’.”

“Maybe some clubs don’t want to buy a player who plays for the money. Even if everyone (else) is there for the money, even if the owner of the club wants to make money. Maybe in 50 to 100 years, people will understand.

“It’s not a regret but I would like to see if I would have had the same career without being honest.

“It would be boring, definitely. Even the hair (affected perceptions). I spoke with an Italian club, a stupid Italian club — they said, ‘We like you but it’s difficult for us to explain to the fans that we’re signing a player with your hair’. Even this. I would like to see what would happen in my career without being extravagant with my hair.”

Assou-Ekotto believes there was “200 per cent” a racial element to this, and it was part of the reason he wanted to play in the Premier League.

“That’s why I moved to England,” he says. “The mentality is completely different. Maybe some people complain about England, but come live in France and believe me you will understand. But, in England, I think you are more cool about everything.”

Moving to Spurs from Lens in 2006 proved to be a very smart decision for the club and the player. Though it took a while for him to get going. Under both Jol and then Juande Ramos, Assou-Ekotto felt undervalued.

“(With Jol) when we were in trouble on the pitch or tactically it was always our fault — (fellow new signing Didier) Zokora or me.”

Assou-Ekotto didn’t confront Jol as his own English was “shit”, and things didn’t improve when Jol was replaced by Ramos in October 2007.

Ramos disapproved of the defender’s aggression in training, fearing it risked injuring his team-mates. Assou-Ekotto insists he never tackled dangerously, and that he was backed by the then director of football Damien Comolli that this sort of approach was required at a time when teams like Bolton and Blackburn were making the league extremely physical. “This man (Ramos) was not for England,” Assou-Ekotto says.

He also wasn’t helped by injuries that restricted him to a total of 27 appearances in his first two seasons. It took the arrival of Redknapp in October 2008 to really energise Assou-Ekotto at Spurs. Five months later came that Carling Cup final when he battled so well against Ronaldo, and he quickly established himself as an automatic pick.

GettyImages-85165040-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Assou-Ekotto loved that Redknapp wouldn’t treat the players like children. “Redknapp knew that we were men, that we were grown up,” he says. “Do what you want, just be good for the game. You have to know as a professional that if you go out on Friday you won’t be good on Saturday. You can go to the restaurant but remember there is a game on Saturday.

“I’m not his kid. That’s why that Tottenham team fought a lot for each other, because he gave us that responsibility. You can be a good manager tactically but if nobody likes you then nobody will fight for you. We’ll fight for you if we love you.

“It’s better to be less good tactically but to be a good man-manager. Checking everyone’s OK and if someone has a problem, saying, ‘OK we are going to sort it out’.

“One day I went to see him and was like, ‘I want to stay inside. I don’t feel great today — I have some problems in my mind’. He would be like, ‘You know what, come back in two days. Stay inside for two days’. And when he gives you this favour, you as a professional and as a man can see that this manager understands my problem. He’s cool with me. The minimum I can give back is to be the best for him at the weekend.”

Assou-Ekotto also appreciated the fact that Redknapp wasn’t one for detailed tactical instructions. “When Harry joined, my English was not fantastic and when he spoke with his accent I used to understand nothing!” Assou-Ekotto says. “So maybe he used to speak about tactics but I’d just say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool, let me on the pitch’. He was like, ‘Give the best of yourself and then I won’t have to see you after the game’.

“He was definitely my best manager at Spurs.”

The positive environment Redknapp fostered at Spurs led to the team finishing fourth in 2010 and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. “It was a fantastic thing for Tottenham, for the supporters,” Assou-Ekotto says. “We opened the door for the players today.”

The season had started with a 2-1 win against Liverpool, a game in which Assou-Ekotto scored a sensational long-range goal. And it was moments like these that he says make a mockery of the notion that he played football only for the money.

“Now I realise football was a fantastic experience,” he says. “No one can explain to you what it’s like to be on the pitch with 40,000 people and to score a goal or be part of a good team.

“To score a goal, especially your first goal for the club. You have 40,000 people who stand up for you because you’ve scored a goal. They make noise like I’d never heard.”

GettyImages-89824863-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Back to 2010, and ahead of the next season, Spurs helped make their squad Champions League-ready by signing Van der Vaart, fresh from helping Holland reach the World Cup final.

Assou-Ekotto, despite having played against him at the tournament with Cameroon, wasn’t familiar with Spurs’ big-name signing from Real Madrid.

“When he came to Tottenham, I didn’t know who he was,” Assou-Ekotto says, laughing. “He is from Madrid? He said hello to everyone in the team and I said hello. I said to one of the players, ‘Who is he?’ And we took the team photo.”

Yet some of Assou-Ekotto’s former team-mates think he benefited from stepping outside the football bubble. “Maybe he was so good because he didn’t take it that seriously,” Darren Bent said in 2020. And the man himself believes you can be totally committed without being too emotional. “The way I think is I think the best way,” he says. “I didn’t care who I was going to play. I’m going to beat you, I’m going to bully you, I’m going to be the best. Because sometimes a player can say he’s very skilful and you’ll think about his game too much before the game.”

It’s an attitude that would seem old-fashioned in the modern-day footballing world of data and video analysis, but Assou-Ekotto insists it worked for him. “It’s going to be hard if we’re not relaxed. So we’re going to be cool — there’s no point being tired before the game or thinking too much about it.”

As for Van der Vaart, Assou-Ekotto enjoyed the kind of relationship with the Dutchman that he wanted from his team-mates: one that was honest, which could spill over into being confrontational if needs be, but was based on mutual respect. “Sometimes you can work with a partner who is fake for six months to a year but then after a few years he explodes and says, ‘I don’t like that’,” he says. “You have to say it from day one, and then no more problems.”

With Van der Vaart, Assou-Ekotto recalls: “We actually had a fight in the dressing room once about free kicks. He had an expectation about that, and after that we became even more close. On the Sunday I had the fight with him, then a few days later he gives me the ball and I score against Everton. He was happy and we were close.”

The team in general shared this closeness and, looking back, Assou-Ekotto can’t believe how far the group pushed it in the name of team bonding. He laughs at the team going to a warm-weather training camp in Dubai in between the two last-16 Champions League legs against AC Milan.

“My agent thought we were crazy when I said we were going to Dubai just to play a bit of football and to enjoy ourselves.

“That’s why it was fantastic. Because we were allowed to go to clubs, to drink. The manager said, ‘Enjoy it but don’t be in the press. You come back from the club, you go to training and then you sleep’.

“The whole team went. That’s why I tell you I was very good in training because I don’t go to clubs and I don’t drink!

“But then we came back and knocked Milan out. That’s why this Champions League was fantastic because we played it like it was a normal thing.

“And when you like your team-mates you want to fight for them.”

Assou-Ekotto was especially close with Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, and before that Zokora. He instantly warmed to Defoe when the striker spoke to him in the French patois he had picked up from the St Lucian side of his family.

“When we met I didn’t know it was Jermain Defoe,” Assou-Ekotto says. “And he starts to speak the patois. He said, ‘Ah, in St Lucia we speak a little bit of French’. I say, ‘I like when a man makes effort to speak French’. Cool, cool, cool.”

GettyImages-138019599-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
On the pitch, Assou-Ekotto developed a good relationship with the emerging Gareth Bale on the left-hand side. It was also an injury to Assou-Ekotto at the start of 2010 that paved the way for Bale to finally become a first-team regular, doing so as a replacement left-back. When Assou-Ekotto returned, Bale, having proved himself to be at the level required, moved up to the wing and never looked back.

“He didn’t speak a lot,” Assou-Ekotto says. “But we understood without having to speak too much. If I didn’t cross well he would have to take my place at left-back!”

Assou-Ekotto also enjoyed a good understanding with Luka Modric, who was always available for a pass when the left-back was in possession. “Luka was one of the best players,” he says. “When he signed for Tottenham, we played a pre-season friendly against Norwich and one of their players came from behind him and took the man and the ball. Luka fell on the pitch and was like, ‘Ooh la la, this is so difficult’. I thought maybe this man is not ready for the Premier League.

“A few months later I thought, ‘OK, this man is ready’.”

Modric left in the summer of 2012, as did Redknapp, spelling the beginning of the end for Assou-Ekotto’s Tottenham career.

He was replaced by Andre Villas-Boas, who was 34 and fresh from a bruising nine months at Chelsea.

“He was young, and still learning,” Assou-Ekotto says. “I think the problem was when you’ve won the Europa League (at Porto) and you come to Tottenham, even if Chelsea was not a great experience for him, you still think your ideas are the best, and you would die for them.

“But, believe me, it wasn’t just me who didn’t enjoy his training.”

One training exercise that Assou-Ekotto — and he says others — found particularly odd was a game involving three teams and three goals, and in his view insufficient explanation. “When you receive the ball — boom — you turn and shoot and score in either the goal on the left or on the right,” Assou-Ekotto says. “No idea! No one understands why. I am not against playing with three teams and three goals if you explain to us why. But no one used to enjoy it and when you don’t enjoy the manager who does the sessions, you don’t want to fight for him.

“I felt he didn’t want to listen to anyone. I’d been there a long time and when I spoke to him, he listened but he didn’t really listen at all. In my opinion, he was without experience and used to think he was the best. But he was not.”

After making only 22 appearances in Villas-Boas’s first campaign, Assou-Ekotto made his frustrations clear during a pre-season tour of Asia in July 2013. Assou-Ekotto knew Villas-Boas wanted to move him on and was aware the time had come to leave Tottenham.

Before going Assou-Ekotto explained why he felt the atmosphere had become so joyless at the club, and said he thought the team’s midfielders needed to be better at finding the full-backs in space, and that Villas-Boas’s job as the manager was to do more to improve the players.

GettyImages-678754828-scaled.jpg

Despite making his 200th appearance for Spurs under Villas-Boas, Assou-Ekotto fell out of favour (Photo: Getty Images)
Reinforcing the point, he referenced the man who antagonised Villas-Boas the most — his former boss Jose Mourinho, whom Villas-Boas had publicly fallen out with.

“I said, ‘After what I’m about to say, you won’t like me forever’,” Assou-Ekotto says. “I said, ‘Look, Jose Mourinho made Samuel Eto’o play left-back’. And I think for him that was it.”

Assou-Ekotto was loaned to Redknapp’s QPR for the 2013-14 season but did message Villas-Boas when he was sacked by Spurs that December. The pair exchanged friendly texts (Assou-Ekotto even called him, non-sarcastically, a “genius” in one — “tactically he was good”) and he certainly doesn’t hold any ill-will towards his former manager, even though things didn’t work out between them.

Assou-Ekotto returned to Spurs for the 2014-15 season, but he was never part of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans and was made to train on his own. Assou-Ekotto, by then into his thirties, had “zero problems” with Pochettino, but thinks that having to do solo gym work and eat his meals with the youth team was an unfair way for his nine years at the club to end.

After leaving Spurs, Assou-Ekotto experienced a big let-down. He finished his career in France with Saint-Etienne and then Metz, but never felt the same buzz that he had enjoyed in the Premier League. He played his last professional game at 33, retiring in 2018, and says: “When I left Tottenham, I didn’t really enjoy football anymore. When you retire you say, ‘Yeah, definitely, I was passionate about the Premier League’.”


Assou-Ekotto’s career was not only defined by his time at Spurs. He is a proud Cameroonian, and recently returned to his home country for the latter stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Despite growing up in France, he was only ever going to play for Cameroon (his father moved from the West African country to France as a teenager), and represented his country at two World Cups — where he admits even he got nervous.

“You sleep before the game and you can be sure all of Cameroon is going to watch you, and all of Africa is going to watch you,” he says. “I don’t feel stress before games but I have to admit before World Cup games I was thinking ‘Tomorrow – no mistakes. Tomorrow is very important not only for you, but for the whole country, for your family, for Africa’.”

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was especially emotional, but it all became too much for Cameroon four years later in Brazil when the team capitulated. After Alex Song’s bizarre red card for elbowing Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic in the back, Assou-Ekotto headbutted his team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo. Assou-Ekotto’s reaction was typically phlegmatic. “It came out of frustration,” he says. “He took the ball and wanted to skin one or two players. I told him to think about the team, not just himself.”

GettyImages-450556390-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Having now retired, Assou-Ekotto does miss the profession that was supposedly only ever a job. He watches Premier League matches, especially Tottenham’s, and says he misses “the intensity of the game”.

“I really enjoyed playing in the Premier League because when I played in Ligue 1 you can’t give contact, give a tackle, you can do nothing. In the Premier League you can do everything, which is why I enjoyed it.

“I want to play again in the Premier League but I know I’m too old for this. Sometimes I watch a Premier League game and I think ‘if only’.”

Instead he contents himself with playing amateur football, and making sure he’s fit enough to avoid being beaten by youngsters almost half his age: “I cannot play with the young people and have someone skin me or push me. No chance! That’s why I run a lot to keep fit and do the gym.”

Assou-Ekotto still has a number of friends from his days as a professional, including the former Liverpool and Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje, but he is far removed from the football bubble.

The sport is more about money than ever before, he feels, but even with football’s problems, his fondness for Tottenham remains.

“It’s cool if they (the fans) loved me but, you know, since I left I’ve never been back,” he says. “One day I will come back with my kids. I hope one or two fans will remember me — I will keep my hair.

“The thing is you’re not a Tottenham player when you sign, you become a Tottenham player after a few games, once you’ve kicked a few players from Woolwich.”

So could the self-proclaimed mercenary have ever signed for Woolwich if they offered enough money?

“No, you can’t go to Woolwich and say, ‘Cool I’ve come here to earn more money’,” he replies.

“Sometimes there are things more important than money.”

that was a brilliant read

Baby Reaction GIF
 
Last edited:

Airfixx

Fucking pay me!!!
Rose was 2 players, you had AVB Rose the guy who never tracked back and looked disinterested and Poch Rose the player who never stopped running and driving forward with boundless energy. He was good in the right environment.

Benny didn’t have the out and out work rate of Poch Rose but he was so classy on the ball.

Rose was at least 3 players(*).... You forgot moody, shit-talking, physically crumbling Rose.

(*4 if you count Sunderland Rose)

TBF to 'AVB Rose'; he was more calamitous than disinterested.
 
Last edited:
Loved BAE (obviously from the name). People really didn't give him enough credit in that Spurs side for being the basis of most of our attacks, he would do an excellent job of taking the ball from the back line/GK and supplying Modric or other midfielders, or rolling up the line for Bale, or even hitting the front men with a longer ball.

On top of that he was athletic and determined, so defensively he wasn't anywhere near as bad as people would have you believe. I loved his showey and ice cold demeanour when under pressure, he is the polar opposite of some of our players today who shit themselves at the sight of an opposition player.

Great entertainment and a player that will stick in my memory for years.
 
Benoit Assou-Ekotto — he’s the one who used to not like football and only played for the money, right?

Well, kind of, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

During his career, Assou-Ekotto made no secret of the fact that money and providing for one’s family motivated footballers — as he points out is the case with any job. In an extraordinary interview with The Guardian in 2010, Assou-Ekotto said that “All people, everyone, when they go to a job, it’s for the money. So I don’t understand why, when I said I play for the money, people were shocked. Oh, he’s a mercenary. Every player is like that. It’s a good, good job and I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion.”

Eleven years on and with his playing career over, Assou-Ekotto, 37, remains as candid as ever — a fascinating counterpoint to what he feels are the bland, dishonest platitudes given by many in his old profession.

Over the course of an entertaining couple of hours, Assou-Ekotto explains to The Athletic via Zoom that admitting that money was a motivating factor during his career does not mean he didn’t enjoy it or take it seriously. He still worked exceptionally hard and at times took a huge amount of pleasure from it. He also says that his view is universal among footballers — it’s just that no one is prepared to admit it.

“Did the other players agree with me? I’m sure, I’m sure, 200 per cent,” he says. “Listen, when your agent calls and says, I have a club for you, the first question is: ‘How much?’ It’s business.”

What frustrated Assou-Ekotto was the hypocrisy, the deception of players saying it was about the badge not the money when their actions clearly showed otherwise.

“I don’t think it helped me being so honest, but I am like that,” he says. “It’s good for business to say, ‘I love the club, I love the fans, blah blah blah… oh shit (I’ve moved to) another club’. I’m not like that.”

In retirement, Assou-Ekotto has rediscovered his love for football, the joy he had when starting the game as a child. He plays for amateur side SC Saint-Nicolas-lez-Arras, a team local to his home in the north of France, mainly for the veterans side. Sometimes he plays for the first team, but he says he doesn’t connect in the same way with the younger players.

“Of course I play for free!” he says. “I like football even more when it’s amateur. Sometimes when I played professionally I didn’t know really what was going on — for example West Ham and Aston Villa wear the same kind of shirt and sometimes I would go there and be like, ‘OK, it’s Aston Villa’ and I’d have to be told, ‘No, it’s West Ham’.

“But (as an) amateur, I know on Monday who I’m going to play Sunday. Because it’s fun to play. So maybe they pay me with something Tottenham couldn’t pay me — happiness.”

Screenshot-2022-01-18-at-16.42.jpg

Assou-Ekotto speaks to The Athletic via Zoom
That said, Assou-Ekotto still experienced a fair amount of joy while at Spurs. Having joined in 2006 under Martin Jol, Assou-Ekotto became a reliable and occasionally thrilling left-back who made more than 200 appearances for the club. He was an important part of the side that finished fourth in 2010 and 2012 and reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2011.

Off the pitch, Assou-Ekotto made a big impact as well. Keen to immerse himself in the Tottenham community, he often walked along the High Road with fans to White Hart Lane on matchdays (taking the tube from his apartment in Canary Wharf), and met with residents during the 2011 London riots to hear about their experiences and show solidarity. “It’s important to feel with the fans that we are not apart from them,” he says. “We just play football.”

At Spurs, though, he did a lot more than that and he has plenty of stories from his nine years in north London. From fighting with Rafael van der Vaart in the dressing room (a superstar Assou-Ekotto had typically not heard of when the Dutchman joined Tottenham) and a memorable mid-season trip to Dubai, to telling Andre Villas-Boas he was no fan of his methods on the training ground.


Assou-Ekotto does the Zoom equivalent of bounding into our interview.

“Fantastique,” he says happily as he unmutes himself and instantly lightens the mood. His hair is grown out rather than in braids, and he is content with his life that mainly involves playing football and running regularly (normally 10ks, his maximum was a half-marathon), relaxing — he says he likes to “chill a lot”, and trying to be a “super dad” to his seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.

Management and punditry are currently not on the agenda — the former because of the challenge of connecting with the younger generation, the latter because he doesn’t want to be forced to say something sensational or unnecessarily harsh. “Commentary is more about ego than about football.”

He is also not pursuing a career in pornography, something he has said he referenced as a joke while at Spurs but was taken seriously and made public by his former manager Harry Redknapp.

After settling into his seat, Assou-Ekotto grins broadly and asks: “You know Daniel (Levy)? If it’s OK for me to come back, I will come back. I don’t ask for a lot of money. £1,000 a week is OK,” he says, laughing.

It’s an appropriate place to start for a player who has always been so candid in his view that footballers are as mercenary as those in any other profession.

At his peak, he was one of the Premier League’s most solid full-backs, but he was never really talked about in those terms and perhaps not taken as seriously as he should have been — and it is tempting to wonder whether the reason was his candid nature. Assou-Ekotto was a very difficult defender to get past; front-footed, committed and extremely fit. In the 2009 Carling Cup final, he did an excellent man-marking job on Cristiano Ronaldo with a performance of impeccable concentration and controlled aggression. With his big hair and big personality, Assou-Ekotto was a difficult player to ignore, but perhaps his talents were overshadowed by his unorthodoxy.

GettyImages-168017570-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Reflecting on his time as a player, as well as saying other players “200 per cent” agreed with his claim that money is a major motivating factor, Assou-Ekotto says he didn’t try to convince anyone to be as honest publicly as he was.

“It’s good for them for business to do that,” he says. “It’s up to them. If they don’t want to be honest, it’s their problem.”

As for the reaction from inside Spurs when he spoke publicly about these issues, there was a rebuke. “The players didn’t say anything, but maybe one coach said it’s not cool to speak like that. I said, ‘I don’t need to lie’.”

“Maybe some clubs don’t want to buy a player who plays for the money. Even if everyone (else) is there for the money, even if the owner of the club wants to make money. Maybe in 50 to 100 years, people will understand.

“It’s not a regret but I would like to see if I would have had the same career without being honest.

“It would be boring, definitely. Even the hair (affected perceptions). I spoke with an Italian club, a stupid Italian club — they said, ‘We like you but it’s difficult for us to explain to the fans that we’re signing a player with your hair’. Even this. I would like to see what would happen in my career without being extravagant with my hair.”

Assou-Ekotto believes there was “200 per cent” a racial element to this, and it was part of the reason he wanted to play in the Premier League.

“That’s why I moved to England,” he says. “The mentality is completely different. Maybe some people complain about England, but come live in France and believe me you will understand. But, in England, I think you are more cool about everything.”

Moving to Spurs from Lens in 2006 proved to be a very smart decision for the club and the player. Though it took a while for him to get going. Under both Jol and then Juande Ramos, Assou-Ekotto felt undervalued.

“(With Jol) when we were in trouble on the pitch or tactically it was always our fault — (fellow new signing Didier) Zokora or me.”

Assou-Ekotto didn’t confront Jol as his own English was “shit”, and things didn’t improve when Jol was replaced by Ramos in October 2007.

Ramos disapproved of the defender’s aggression in training, fearing it risked injuring his team-mates. Assou-Ekotto insists he never tackled dangerously, and that he was backed by the then director of football Damien Comolli that this sort of approach was required at a time when teams like Bolton and Blackburn were making the league extremely physical. “This man (Ramos) was not for England,” Assou-Ekotto says.

He also wasn’t helped by injuries that restricted him to a total of 27 appearances in his first two seasons. It took the arrival of Redknapp in October 2008 to really energise Assou-Ekotto at Spurs. Five months later came that Carling Cup final when he battled so well against Ronaldo, and he quickly established himself as an automatic pick.

GettyImages-85165040-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Assou-Ekotto loved that Redknapp wouldn’t treat the players like children. “Redknapp knew that we were men, that we were grown up,” he says. “Do what you want, just be good for the game. You have to know as a professional that if you go out on Friday you won’t be good on Saturday. You can go to the restaurant but remember there is a game on Saturday.

“I’m not his kid. That’s why that Tottenham team fought a lot for each other, because he gave us that responsibility. You can be a good manager tactically but if nobody likes you then nobody will fight for you. We’ll fight for you if we love you.

“It’s better to be less good tactically but to be a good man-manager. Checking everyone’s OK and if someone has a problem, saying, ‘OK we are going to sort it out’.

“One day I went to see him and was like, ‘I want to stay inside. I don’t feel great today — I have some problems in my mind’. He would be like, ‘You know what, come back in two days. Stay inside for two days’. And when he gives you this favour, you as a professional and as a man can see that this manager understands my problem. He’s cool with me. The minimum I can give back is to be the best for him at the weekend.”

Assou-Ekotto also appreciated the fact that Redknapp wasn’t one for detailed tactical instructions. “When Harry joined, my English was not fantastic and when he spoke with his accent I used to understand nothing!” Assou-Ekotto says. “So maybe he used to speak about tactics but I’d just say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool, let me on the pitch’. He was like, ‘Give the best of yourself and then I won’t have to see you after the game’.

“He was definitely my best manager at Spurs.”

The positive environment Redknapp fostered at Spurs led to the team finishing fourth in 2010 and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. “It was a fantastic thing for Tottenham, for the supporters,” Assou-Ekotto says. “We opened the door for the players today.”

The season had started with a 2-1 win against Liverpool, a game in which Assou-Ekotto scored a sensational long-range goal. And it was moments like these that he says make a mockery of the notion that he played football only for the money.

“Now I realise football was a fantastic experience,” he says. “No one can explain to you what it’s like to be on the pitch with 40,000 people and to score a goal or be part of a good team.

“To score a goal, especially your first goal for the club. You have 40,000 people who stand up for you because you’ve scored a goal. They make noise like I’d never heard.”

GettyImages-89824863-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Back to 2010, and ahead of the next season, Spurs helped make their squad Champions League-ready by signing Van der Vaart, fresh from helping Holland reach the World Cup final.

Assou-Ekotto, despite having played against him at the tournament with Cameroon, wasn’t familiar with Spurs’ big-name signing from Real Madrid.

“When he came to Tottenham, I didn’t know who he was,” Assou-Ekotto says, laughing. “He is from Madrid? He said hello to everyone in the team and I said hello. I said to one of the players, ‘Who is he?’ And we took the team photo.”

Yet some of Assou-Ekotto’s former team-mates think he benefited from stepping outside the football bubble. “Maybe he was so good because he didn’t take it that seriously,” Darren Bent said in 2020. And the man himself believes you can be totally committed without being too emotional. “The way I think is I think the best way,” he says. “I didn’t care who I was going to play. I’m going to beat you, I’m going to bully you, I’m going to be the best. Because sometimes a player can say he’s very skilful and you’ll think about his game too much before the game.”

It’s an attitude that would seem old-fashioned in the modern-day footballing world of data and video analysis, but Assou-Ekotto insists it worked for him. “It’s going to be hard if we’re not relaxed. So we’re going to be cool — there’s no point being tired before the game or thinking too much about it.”

As for Van der Vaart, Assou-Ekotto enjoyed the kind of relationship with the Dutchman that he wanted from his team-mates: one that was honest, which could spill over into being confrontational if needs be, but was based on mutual respect. “Sometimes you can work with a partner who is fake for six months to a year but then after a few years he explodes and says, ‘I don’t like that’,” he says. “You have to say it from day one, and then no more problems.”

With Van der Vaart, Assou-Ekotto recalls: “We actually had a fight in the dressing room once about free kicks. He had an expectation about that, and after that we became even more close. On the Sunday I had the fight with him, then a few days later he gives me the ball and I score against Everton. He was happy and we were close.”

The team in general shared this closeness and, looking back, Assou-Ekotto can’t believe how far the group pushed it in the name of team bonding. He laughs at the team going to a warm-weather training camp in Dubai in between the two last-16 Champions League legs against AC Milan.

“My agent thought we were crazy when I said we were going to Dubai just to play a bit of football and to enjoy ourselves.

“That’s why it was fantastic. Because we were allowed to go to clubs, to drink. The manager said, ‘Enjoy it but don’t be in the press. You come back from the club, you go to training and then you sleep’.

“The whole team went. That’s why I tell you I was very good in training because I don’t go to clubs and I don’t drink!

“But then we came back and knocked Milan out. That’s why this Champions League was fantastic because we played it like it was a normal thing.

“And when you like your team-mates you want to fight for them.”

Assou-Ekotto was especially close with Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, and before that Zokora. He instantly warmed to Defoe when the striker spoke to him in the French patois he had picked up from the St Lucian side of his family.

“When we met I didn’t know it was Jermain Defoe,” Assou-Ekotto says. “And he starts to speak the patois. He said, ‘Ah, in St Lucia we speak a little bit of French’. I say, ‘I like when a man makes effort to speak French’. Cool, cool, cool.”

GettyImages-138019599-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
On the pitch, Assou-Ekotto developed a good relationship with the emerging Gareth Bale on the left-hand side. It was also an injury to Assou-Ekotto at the start of 2010 that paved the way for Bale to finally become a first-team regular, doing so as a replacement left-back. When Assou-Ekotto returned, Bale, having proved himself to be at the level required, moved up to the wing and never looked back.

“He didn’t speak a lot,” Assou-Ekotto says. “But we understood without having to speak too much. If I didn’t cross well he would have to take my place at left-back!”

Assou-Ekotto also enjoyed a good understanding with Luka Modric, who was always available for a pass when the left-back was in possession. “Luka was one of the best players,” he says. “When he signed for Tottenham, we played a pre-season friendly against Norwich and one of their players came from behind him and took the man and the ball. Luka fell on the pitch and was like, ‘Ooh la la, this is so difficult’. I thought maybe this man is not ready for the Premier League.

“A few months later I thought, ‘OK, this man is ready’.”

Modric left in the summer of 2012, as did Redknapp, spelling the beginning of the end for Assou-Ekotto’s Tottenham career.

He was replaced by Andre Villas-Boas, who was 34 and fresh from a bruising nine months at Chelsea.

“He was young, and still learning,” Assou-Ekotto says. “I think the problem was when you’ve won the Europa League (at Porto) and you come to Tottenham, even if Chelsea was not a great experience for him, you still think your ideas are the best, and you would die for them.

“But, believe me, it wasn’t just me who didn’t enjoy his training.”

One training exercise that Assou-Ekotto — and he says others — found particularly odd was a game involving three teams and three goals, and in his view insufficient explanation. “When you receive the ball — boom — you turn and shoot and score in either the goal on the left or on the right,” Assou-Ekotto says. “No idea! No one understands why. I am not against playing with three teams and three goals if you explain to us why. But no one used to enjoy it and when you don’t enjoy the manager who does the sessions, you don’t want to fight for him.

“I felt he didn’t want to listen to anyone. I’d been there a long time and when I spoke to him, he listened but he didn’t really listen at all. In my opinion, he was without experience and used to think he was the best. But he was not.”

After making only 22 appearances in Villas-Boas’s first campaign, Assou-Ekotto made his frustrations clear during a pre-season tour of Asia in July 2013. Assou-Ekotto knew Villas-Boas wanted to move him on and was aware the time had come to leave Tottenham.

Before going Assou-Ekotto explained why he felt the atmosphere had become so joyless at the club, and said he thought the team’s midfielders needed to be better at finding the full-backs in space, and that Villas-Boas’s job as the manager was to do more to improve the players.

GettyImages-678754828-scaled.jpg

Despite making his 200th appearance for Spurs under Villas-Boas, Assou-Ekotto fell out of favour (Photo: Getty Images)
Reinforcing the point, he referenced the man who antagonised Villas-Boas the most — his former boss Jose Mourinho, whom Villas-Boas had publicly fallen out with.

“I said, ‘After what I’m about to say, you won’t like me forever’,” Assou-Ekotto says. “I said, ‘Look, Jose Mourinho made Samuel Eto’o play left-back’. And I think for him that was it.”

Assou-Ekotto was loaned to Redknapp’s QPR for the 2013-14 season but did message Villas-Boas when he was sacked by Spurs that December. The pair exchanged friendly texts (Assou-Ekotto even called him, non-sarcastically, a “genius” in one — “tactically he was good”) and he certainly doesn’t hold any ill-will towards his former manager, even though things didn’t work out between them.

Assou-Ekotto returned to Spurs for the 2014-15 season, but he was never part of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans and was made to train on his own. Assou-Ekotto, by then into his thirties, had “zero problems” with Pochettino, but thinks that having to do solo gym work and eat his meals with the youth team was an unfair way for his nine years at the club to end.

After leaving Spurs, Assou-Ekotto experienced a big let-down. He finished his career in France with Saint-Etienne and then Metz, but never felt the same buzz that he had enjoyed in the Premier League. He played his last professional game at 33, retiring in 2018, and says: “When I left Tottenham, I didn’t really enjoy football anymore. When you retire you say, ‘Yeah, definitely, I was passionate about the Premier League’.”


Assou-Ekotto’s career was not only defined by his time at Spurs. He is a proud Cameroonian, and recently returned to his home country for the latter stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Despite growing up in France, he was only ever going to play for Cameroon (his father moved from the West African country to France as a teenager), and represented his country at two World Cups — where he admits even he got nervous.

“You sleep before the game and you can be sure all of Cameroon is going to watch you, and all of Africa is going to watch you,” he says. “I don’t feel stress before games but I have to admit before World Cup games I was thinking ‘Tomorrow – no mistakes. Tomorrow is very important not only for you, but for the whole country, for your family, for Africa’.”

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was especially emotional, but it all became too much for Cameroon four years later in Brazil when the team capitulated. After Alex Song’s bizarre red card for elbowing Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic in the back, Assou-Ekotto headbutted his team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo. Assou-Ekotto’s reaction was typically phlegmatic. “It came out of frustration,” he says. “He took the ball and wanted to skin one or two players. I told him to think about the team, not just himself.”

GettyImages-450556390-scaled.jpg

(Photo: Getty Images)
Having now retired, Assou-Ekotto does miss the profession that was supposedly only ever a job. He watches Premier League matches, especially Tottenham’s, and says he misses “the intensity of the game”.

“I really enjoyed playing in the Premier League because when I played in Ligue 1 you can’t give contact, give a tackle, you can do nothing. In the Premier League you can do everything, which is why I enjoyed it.

“I want to play again in the Premier League but I know I’m too old for this. Sometimes I watch a Premier League game and I think ‘if only’.”

Instead he contents himself with playing amateur football, and making sure he’s fit enough to avoid being beaten by youngsters almost half his age: “I cannot play with the young people and have someone skin me or push me. No chance! That’s why I run a lot to keep fit and do the gym.”

Assou-Ekotto still has a number of friends from his days as a professional, including the former Liverpool and Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje, but he is far removed from the football bubble.

The sport is more about money than ever before, he feels, but even with football’s problems, his fondness for Tottenham remains.

“It’s cool if they (the fans) loved me but, you know, since I left I’ve never been back,” he says. “One day I will come back with my kids. I hope one or two fans will remember me — I will keep my hair.

“The thing is you’re not a Tottenham player when you sign, you become a Tottenham player after a few games, once you’ve kicked a few players from Woolwich.”

So could the self-proclaimed mercenary have ever signed for Woolwich if they offered enough money?

“No, you can’t go to Woolwich and say, ‘Cool I’ve come here to earn more money’,” he replies.

“Sometimes there are things more important than money.”
Gave me a warm fuzzy glow. Always loved Benny. I'm fairly sure I fucked an exam the say after that Everton screamer because I kept replaying it over in my head instead of reading questions


 
Top Bottom