What does it take to consider a modern-day footballer as something of a cult hero? If your checklist includes on-pitch fashion statements, a throwback 70’s haircut and the cultivation of your own catchphrase, then perhaps Benoit Assou-Ekotto is your man.
The Tottenham Hotspur left back is a hugely popular figure for a whole multitude of reasons in N17 and it seems fitting that his own personal rise to prominence in the Premier League has gone in perfect sync with that of his club’s.
And there can be no doubt that the man, known affectionately as ‘Disco Benny’ to the White Hart Lane masses, is cool as a proverbial cucumber. It takes a certain breed of man to where contrasting coloured football boots and not look like a lemon, but Assou-Ekotto pulls it off- and his relaxed, laid-back attitude to life isn’t consigned to life off the pitch, either.
The Cameroon international has brought his very own unique style of defending to Spurs and it’s fair to say that it’s been an overwhelming success with both fans and management in North London.
Yet whether he’s been LOL’ing a little bit too much over the summer or something else, it’s fair to say that Assou-Ekotto hasn’t exactly started the term firing on all cylinders. It’s difficult to say how much the knee problem that’s currently sidelined him may have affected his performances, but Spurs fans are no strangers to the erratic ways of their first-choice left back.
On his day, he is undoubtedly amongst the finest full-backs in this league. But at 28-years-old, it’s about time he started flushing out the silly errors that seem to continuously plague his game, away for good.
The start of the season hasn’t been and never was going to be, a walk in the park for anyone associated with the club. The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas has brought with it an entire new playing philosophy and to make matters worse, it took three Premier League games until the chairman gave him the right tools to develop it. As a result, the subsequent teething problems haven’t bathed any of the starting XI in particular glory.
And from the defensive side of proceedings especially, the change in set-up has been fraught with danger. But one player who you would imagine may have ben the biggest beneficiaries of Villas-Boas’ new ideologies, was Assou-Ekotto.
His qualities as a footballer as much as a defender have always been clear to see since his move from Lens in 2006. Often when found boxed in at the byline or with his back to the rest of play, Assou-Ekotto will find a way to play the ball out, as opposed to simply disposing of possession – a quality that he has even admitted would occasionally infuriate his new boss’ predecessor, Harry Redknapp. His defensive game involves keeping the ball, passing it out to midfield or back to his centre halve. A trait that is perhaps still very much undervalued in some quarters.
But despite his deflected goal against West Bromwich Albion in Spurs’ first home match, Assou-Ekotto hasn’t quite looked the whole ticket so far this term.
The problem with Assou-Ekotto has always been not so much an issue of inconsistency, but one of concentration. Every now and then, the feint over the ball in his own penalty area or the indulgence of ball watching as a hobby, will be wheeled out mid-match. Supporters are never best pleased when he displays this skillset, but he’s got away with it because the bread and butter of his game has always been there.
But when that goes missing aswell, as we’ve seen in his performances so far in Spurs shirt this season, it makes for one hell of a deadly cocktail.
Short passes going astray, wingers sailing past him at a canter and an exhibition of clearances designed purely to invite more pressure on his team; it’s been a difficult start to the 2012-13 season for Spurs’ left-back. He can be by no means the only one subject to such critique and his right-sided colleague in Kyle Walker has been just as slow out of the blocks so far this term. But where as the ex-Sheffield United man is coming off the back of his breakthrough season at White Hart Lane, Assou-Ekotto is now in his seventh season at Tottenham.
All players go through poor periods of form and Assou-Ekotto is no different to any other player. He looks set to miss some time out the team with what Villas-Boas described as a bone fragment issue in his knee and if it’s currently left him in the treatment room, than he has to be cut some slack. But quite how much that would have affected some of his basic decision-making is debatable.
Since he finally overcome his career-threatening knee issues to break into the Spurs first-team, Assou-Ekotto has been an ever-present for four consecutive seasons now and considering his levels of consistency over that period, supporters would do well to remember that as he goes through a more difficult time. But you could argue that within that time, the French-born star hasn’t exactly had a wealth of competition to push him to the next level.
Since Gareth Bale’s meteoric rise, a move back into defense – despite some fans adhering to the contrary – has never been on the cards. In fact, perhaps his only real competitor in recent times for the role, has been Danny Rose – a player who’s new found status as full-back originated as a means of necessity, as opposed to personal choice. But with the very recent emergence of Kyle Naughton, back at Spurs after a year on loan with Norwich, it appears finally that Assou-Ekotto has a credible competitor for the left-back role.
Because perhaps that is what Benny has needed, more than anything else. If Naughton can really impose himself in this Spurs team during his absence, then it will be the wake-up that he needs to take his game to the next level. That he will go on to the pitch knowing that unlike the last four years, if he drops a clanger, he won’t necessarily be guaranteed a place in the team for the next match.
Assou-Ekotto has had a wonderful time at Spurs in recent years and he has the skillset to really build himself a legacy at this football club. But he won’t do it unless he can raise his game that to that extra level and finally bring consistency to his game. Let’s hope a break from the team and the fresh impetus of genuine competition will see both Assou-Ekotto and Spurs, having the last laugh out loud.
How do you feel about Assou-Ekotto’s recent level of form? A big fuss over nothing or are you hoping that a bit of real competition can bring the best out of him? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and let’s talk Tottenham.