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Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto keeps it real

Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto keeps it real

Benoit Assou-Ekotto is a rare breed of modern day footballer. He looks you straight in the eye and tells you what he actually thinks. Even if it’s not what you want to hear. (Photo: French-born Assou-Ekotto plays internationally for Cameroon)

Forget the clichés, rhetoric and talk of loving the game. The Tottenham left-back is as real as it gets.

Before we start our interview, at his flat in central London, my producer asks him whether he likes my wristwatch. His response: a quick glance at the watch in question, a shrug of the shoulders and clear “No”.

He isn’t impolite though. “I’m sorry, it’s just what I feel,” he says with a sly smirk. I know I shouldn’t like him. But I do. His straight talking is refreshing and it doesn’t stop when the camera is rolling.

Is football just a job?

“For me it is just a job. When I used to play in France I was near my home, my mum, my friends and everybody I know.

“So why would I come to England? I didn’t speak English or know anybody. It was just a job. I’m sure in every job everybody wants progression and it’s the same for me.

“But I understand when I go on the pitch I have to give the best of myself because the season ticket is very expensive.”

Did you ever want to play for France?

“Even when I was young my club said to me you can play with the Under-16s for France. But I told them I don’t need to go because there is no point to wear the French shirt, I don’t have feelings with French players.

“One time I spoke to one footballer from Africa who plays for the French team and I said to him, ‘why don’t you want to play for your country?’

“He said to me that when you play for France it’s more easy to speak about money because you are a French international player.”

Is Gareth Bale one of the best players in the world?

“If he keeps playing like this for the next 10 years he will be the best player in the world.

“Now it’s difficult to say if he’s the best because it’s whether a player is good for the long time, not just the one year.”

He shirks no questions. “Ask me what you want,” he tells me, “but speak slowly – you talk too fast!”

Assou-Ekotto puts the difficult times he had early on at his time at Tottenham down to his lack of English. He admits that when he first joined in 2006 he did not even know the English words for left or right, so could not follow instructions.

Inconsistent and uninterested were terms bandied about by the Spurs fans when he first broke into the team.

Now, he has won over the fans, made the left-back spot his own and has played a key role in Gareth Bale’s world-class form.

Assou-Ekotto feels Bale (right) could be the best player in the world

He explains that he changed his attitude to football after he was told that a knee injury he suffered in February 2007 could end his career.

“When your surgeon tells you maybe you won’t play football anymore many things are different in your mind,” he said.

“Before, when you’re injured, your money comes into your account every month and everything is cool.

“But when they speak to you about the end of your career at 22 or 23… it’s why maybe I changed.

“I’m safe now but this gave me a lesson. That’s why I changed many things in my mind and in my life.”

A change in attitude saw a change in car – in fact, the purchase of a Smart car.

While he has an impressive range of sports cars sitting in the garage, he uses the smaller vehicle to get about town and to training “because it makes sense!”

He lists the reasons why: “It’s easy to drive, easy to park, £20 for the fuel – all is good with this car.”

When not in his car, Assou-Ekotto has no qualms with jumping on the Underground. I did not believe him until he whipped out his Oyster card.

“I have never seen another footballer on the Tube. Not once!” he says with a genuine look of surprise.

I end the interview by asking him to describe his character in three words. His eyes search around the room deep in thought thinking about the question.

And then it comes to him: “Cool… quiet… and true!”

Is the latter the most important one? “Yes, I think so.”

By Leon Mann,  BBC Sport

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