Benoit Assou-Ekotto: Football mercenary or modern professional?
Tottenham’s left-back sparked controversy and debate earlier this year after giving a frank interview to the Guardian newspaper. When the typical conversation with a Premiership football player results in the lines, ‘It was important to get the three points but we must stay focused’ and ‘I was pleased with my goal but it’s the team that counts,’ this interview marked a rare departure. Acknowledging the dullness and hypocrisy of most footballers, Assou-Ekotto wasted no time in making it clear that his decision to move from Lens of Ligue 1 to north London was purely motivated by money. “Why did I come here? For a job. A career is only 10, 15 years. It’s only a job.” When negotiating a move to a new club he insisted, “The first thing that you speak about is money.”
Inevitably these comments were to rankle with some of the Tottenham faithful and many other fans. For the fan their loyalty is fixed, anything but transitory in direct contrast to this player’s willingness to swap clubs for monetary gain. Yet can we be surprised by these comments? Do candid views such as these still have the ability to shock in the richest football league where money is king. Let’s consider the lifestyles of these young millionaires from an early age to try and understand the frankness of these views.
From a young age their skills are evident and talent scouts are swiftly after them in the hope of beating a rival club to a bargain. In their early years they are intensively schooled in the ways of the game often separated for long periods from friends and family. Their lives are already regimented to strictly control what they eat, drink and when they sleep. By their late teenage years they may be working their way through the lower leagues or face being sent out on loan to any number of clubs. Being so immersed in the game the football world is now all they know, they haven’t studied, had a social life and are under constant supervision and scrutiny.
They train all week long for the chance of playing in the game at the end of the week. Desperate to feature they have no other option but to swear allegiance to the manager. Any disagreements with the gaffer are likely to result in prolonged spells on the sidelines. Indeed Assou-Ekotto concedes he had a difficult time with Martin Jol and Juande Ramos: “With Jol, he had a hierarchy within the team, everybody did not have the same starting point.Ramos was always picking little fights. He told me I was too aggressive in training.” Anxious to be adored by the fans they are also weary those who want to befriend them. “When you are a professional the world of football is not good. There are people around you only because you play football.”
In the money driven context of modern football where players are stringently controlled but paid fantastically well can we blame Assou-Ekotto for taking such a business like attitude to the game? However cynical his attitude surely his approach is preferable to the badge kissers who swear commitment to the cause and proceed to treat their fans like imbeciles. Cesc Fabregas is more than happy to kiss the badge and run to the fans in ecstasy after scoring a brace in the north London derby only to recently issue a statement through his agent that he wishes to leave the club for his dream return to the Camp Nou. Another club captain, John ‘Mr Chelsea’ Terry waited for what seemed an eternity last summer to confirm his future to the club after being tempted by the sizeable advances of Manchester City.
In defence of Assou-Ekotto at least we know where we stand and he argues that his attitude should not concern the Tottenham fans, confirming that he always gives 100%. His boss, Harry Redknapp has said with a wry smile that his left-back never seems to know who they are playing or what competition it’s in. Maybe there is no better way of achieving a consistency of performance when you cannot differentiate between Villa in the League and Scunthorpe in the League Cup.
Written By Jack Howlett