Benoît Assou-Ekotto is certainly something of an odd character. At times the Tottenham left-back behaves like he could have come straight from the scenes of a Wes Anderson film. More on that later.
When he first came to England in 2006, Benoît struggled to get a chance, but ever since Harry Redknapp took over at White Hart Lane he has gone from strength to strength. As a Spurs fan, I love the guy but I know plenty who don’t. As a footballing personality he fascinates me, and at the very least many of his detractors now have to admit that they no long wince in anticipation of a hairy moment when he receives the ball – something that I think every Spurs fan was doing at one point.
More to the point, since he’s grabbed this spot in the first team, his unorthodox life has come to light under the increasing glare of the media’s attentions, and its mainly for this that I admire the man, and would now count him amongst my favourite footballers. Any half-casual fan whose followed the season so far via Match of the Day should have realised that Assou-Ekotto isn’t quite the same as other footballers. For a start, he wears odd boots. He bought two pairs of the same type, one blue, one white. Yes, bought. He has no sponsor. When one of them cracked less than a week after he bought it, he was reluctant to admit that the other boot in the pair was useless, so he wore it with the other boot from the other pair. I mean, what? Why he didn’t just wear the other pair and keep the good one from the faulty pair as a spare, I’m not quite sure. But then, Assou-Ekotto doesn’t really do things by the book.
For a start there was the interview he had a few seasons ago where he admitted to being a mercenary. Not in a bad sense of the word, you get the impression that he really enjoys life at Tottenham and in London, and he certainly seems loyal to the terms of his contract. But he fully admits that he left Lens and went to Spurs for the money. His father was a professional footballer once himself, and his elder brother also plays, so you’d assume that Benoît was blessed with at least a little skill. And, for the most part, this is true.
He was faced with an option. Take a little office job that he probably could have done okay at with a decent wage, or join the family business and play football until he couldn’t anymore, racking up the megabucks. I think I know which I’d go for. Following this logic, reason stands that if one team is offering him more money, why not take the offer and move? Lens were daft or desperate enough to accept a bid for him, so there was nothing keeping him there. In many ways he’s admirably honest and perhaps even right about mercenaries in the game; just look at Robbie “has about 18 boyhood clubs” Keane or Cashley Cole. So why not speak the truth about it and admit to being one? It’s not like players move because they like the shirt colour of the new team, is it? (Although actually, you would worry about Robbie Keane in that respect…)
I mean, if he’s good at it, and people are going to pay him loads to do it, why not play football until you can and then move away from it? I don’t have a particular passion for basketball, but if it turned out I had some kind of talent for it and people were going to pay me thousands to play it until I was too old to do so competitively, then yeah, I think I’d probably put the architecture books away until I was 30 and hit the gym.
And that’s what’s refreshing about Assou-Ekotto. I may only be drawing the same conclusions as the interviewers whose work I’ve read in the week leading up to writing this blog piece, but Benoît really is a startlingly honest human being. Does he cosy up to his team mates? No. He didn’t even have them in his mobile phone at one point. I wouldn’t know if the same were true now, but you’ve got to admire the guy for doing what he can do well, for the people who pay him – not the club as such, but the fans – and then getting on with his life. He doesn’t plaster himself all over adverts – that rather dashing one of him above the Spurs shop aside – and he’s a generally quiet guy.
He’s known to walk to the stadium with fans before home games, and often uses the tube to get about London. How many other footballers do you know with an Oyster card? Benoît has to spend his money somehow though, splashing out on a garage filled with his collection of sports cars, but what did he used to use to get around town in? A Smart car.
Yeah, quite. And when he spun that and nearly killed himself and Aaron Lennon in the process, what did he replace it with? Not some flashed out hypercar, but an Audi A1.
This may be becoming a list of strange things done or said by Benoît Assou-Ekotto, but in some ways that’s the point. Mario Balotelli is a player constantly in the limelight, doing insane things that keep him in papers, plastered across the front and back pages. The Italian has already passed into myth, with the urban legends surrounding his life on and off the pitch surely accounting for the vast majority of stories written about him.
Whilst Balotelli off busy doing his thing as he tries to become football’s answer to both Keith Moon and Chuck Norris at the same time, Assou-Ekotto’s busy doing his. His antics may get overshadowed by Mario Balotelli, and in terms of his ability he doesn’t even get a look in alongside his team mates with the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Rafael van der Vaart making up the Spurs first team these days. But I don’t mind that, and he doesn’t seem to either.
He’s a footballer who doesn’t act like a footballer, and that’s why I like him. In recent seasons he’s been one of Spurs’ most improved players, and certainly when you look at the left-backs that would be ‘available’ in the market at the moment, there’s certainly nobody there that I could see doing a better job than he does already.
And yet despite his calm exterior, every now and then there’s a huge rush of emotion that results in moments like his goal against Liverpool, or his more recent screamer against Everton.
That’s what got me thinking about Wes Anderson films in the first place. In every one of his films there are characters like Assou-Ekotto. Who else but Benoît from the world of footbal could figure in Bottle Rocket? Perhaps as one of the serving staff at the motel, who turns out to have a talent for safe breaking, and goes with the gang despite not really being interested in a life of crime.
Or how about in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou? The crew of that boat is so emotionally unstable and varied, of so many different nationalities, that who would blink an eye if Assou-Ekotto was sitting in the background, holding a boom mike for the cameraman before jamming with Pelé dos Santos out on deck?
Or The Darjeeling Limited? I could see him as one of the brothers, certainly. Skin colour and accent aside, stick a floaty shirt on his back and a cigarette in his mouth and he’s practically there already.
But it is The Royal Tenenbaums that I think would suit his presence the most. He’d either be a friend of Richie Tenenbaum from the professional sports circuit, or the man himself playing soccer rather than tennis, not even bothering to play a character, just himself as he is.
After all, Assou-Ekotto is a player who isn’t all that fussed with football, drives an ‘interesting’ vehicle, wears odd shoes and is prone to not-so small outbursts regardless of his quiet demeanour. He’d certainly be just as, if not more, likeable than that scumbag, Eli Cash.