The talk about White Hart Lane tends to focus on the same few glamour names. Be it Jermain Defoe scoring goals, Aaron Lennon establishing himself in the England team, Ledley King having his knee problems or Peter Crouch just being Peter Crouch. With the latest focus falling on Robbie Keane and his Ireland colleagues facing France for a place in the World Cup Finals, it is even easier for the less-illustrious Spurs players to blend into the background. One such squad member who is too often overlooked is left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Slipping under the radar, the French-born defender looks odds on to be joining his higher profile club mates on the plane to South Africa next summer. Cameroon, the country of Assou-Ekotto’s father, are one win away from qualification and Benoit will be a part of the Indomitable Lions squad.
Ask a neutral Premier League fan to talk about the 25-year-old and the chances are they will be stuck. It is a surprise upon realising that he is not technically a young player anymore as he has risen from nowhere, much like a youth team graduate. In fact, he was already a 22-year-old when he signed from French club RC Lens ahead of the 2006/07 season. A highly-rated full-back, he had already amassed 73 first team appearances for the Ligue 1 club when he moved to north London. His first season at Tottenham was a relative success, and he managed 24 games before a knee injury ended his season. He returned to action in September of his second season at the club but lasted just two games before the knee problem reoccurred. He missed the rest of the 2007/08 season and there were fears his career could be over. Already not the biggest of names, he soon became a forgotten man.
As with much of the revitalization of Spurs over the past 12 months, the arrival of Harry Redknapp has had much to do with the renaissance of Assou-Ekotto. The Cameroonian did not get off to the best of starts with his new manager, publicly declaring his desire to leave. He even went so far as to name his potential destination, telling radio station RMC: “I’d love a return to France. Above all I would love to join PSG.” Despite finding Gareth Bale ahead of him in the team initially under the former West Ham boss, he stayed at the club to fight for his place and became a regular for the rest of the 2008/09 season. Like the majority of football fans, Redknapp’s opinion of Assou-Ekotto has been built on what he has seen in the flesh rather than from previous reputation. Seemingly not 100% clued up on his own charge, the Lilywhites boss said: “I think he has been injured before but I have been very impressed with him this season as he has been in great form. He has looked an outstanding left-back”.
The recent campaign has been a good one for both player and club. The season got off to the best possible start for the left-back when he fired home his first Tottenham goal and his first ever league goal for any club. It was also the team’s first of the season and helped them towards an impressive opening day victory against Liverpool – a result that has set the tempo for Spurs’ season to date. He was swiftly awarded a new four year contract and his place in the team looks safe. What a difference a year makes. After his outspoken desire to leave England 12 months ago, he now appears happier than ever. He recently told French magazine La Voix du Nord: “I’m having a blast in England. In France, at the slightest touch on the shoulder, the referees give you a yellow card. Whereas here it is different. And, unlike Ligue 1 coaches, coaches in the Premier League think about scoring one more goal than the opponent and not to concede one less than they do.”
Expect, then, to see much more of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. No longer an occasional player for Spurs, just another promising youngster failing to really make an impact, he is now a valuable and important member of the best Tottenham side for the last few years. Pity for poor Gareth Bale, who faces quite a job to usurp him from the starting XI. At least there was better news for the Welsh international recently. His appearance as a substitute in the 5-0 thrashing of newly-promoted Burnley marked the first time he had been on the winning side in the Premier League for the club. It had only taken him 25 matches and over two years to break his duck.
Tottenham Club Focus
Defoe dazzles but may remain an England substitute – September 8
Redknapp to thank for Lennon renaissance – September 11
Spurs fail first big test – September 15
Transfer budget not affected by new training complex – September 18
Honesty not always the best policy in football– September 22
Redknapp almost spoilt for choice – September 25
Four-Star Robbie serves up timely reminder – September 29
Versatile Huddlestone is two for the price of one – October 2
Tall stories dominate while Reebok win proves too tall an order – October 6
Old friends, new enemies – October 16
Benoit Assou-Ekot-who? – October 20