Tottenham Hotspur Society IIWatch
Indeed, We miss him more than I thought we would.
The night starts pretty much as one might expect it to when in the company of a Premier League footballer. In a glitzy, glamorous apartment in the heart of the metropolis. 'Chigwell was ***t,' says Benoit Assou-Ekotto. 'I had to get out of the forest.'
So the Tottenham full back now rents this place in Canary Wharf, all stainless steel, wood flooring and glass with a direct view into a thousand offices. He likes the hustle and bustle. Likes being surrounded by people, only closing his blinds when it's time to go to bed. 'I can see them but they can also see me!' he says. Not that Assou-Ekotto could ever be accused of taking himself too seriously.
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After 45 minutes it is time to head to a school in Haringey, where the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation have launched a community project for kids in the area. Assou-Ekotto tells me to meet him outside while he brings the car around, disappearing in the lift to the underground car park. So I wait, and wonder. Ferrari, Lambo, Range Rover Sport? Only for the electric gates to rise and reveal something a touch less flash. A two-seater Smart car, albeit with personalised number plate.
'In London it is perfect,' he says before pulling into a petrol station. 'I can get to training every day for just £20 a week. And I don't care if other players laugh at me.'
He has had a Bentley, but it was the experience of owning one that persuaded him to spend his money more wisely. 'You pay £150,000 and when you sell it back it is worth only £85,000. I thought, "This is crazy", and decided to do something different.'
Now the 26-year-old has a collection of Ford Mustang Shelby GT500s - a classic American sports car that was built in the late 1960s and will increase in value as the years pass.
'I have six,' he says. 'And I keep them in a museum near Heathrow Airport. I drive them occasionally, and when the players see one they say "cool". But they are investments. They do not suffer depreciation. I bought one off a basketball player from the NBA. It was a 1967 model with just 400 miles on the clock. But he had no interest in it and wanted to sell. I paid £95,000 knowing it was worth £150,000.
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It's the same with my home. I rent the apartment because I have bought 10 houses in France for the price it would cost me to buy that place.'
As the owner of an Oyster card for travel on the London Underground, Assou-Ekotto uses the Tube too. While a weekly trip back to the family home in Arras in France, to visit his mum, older brothers and old friends, is not something he does on a private jet but on the Eurostar. 'It only takes an hour and 20 minutes,' he says.
But Assou-Ekotto's passion for cheap travel is not what prompted this interview. It is some of the comments he has made, and the way he has been portrayed as a money-grabbing mercenary who regards most of his contemporaries with contempt.
By the time we've sat down in a branch of his favourite restaurant chain for a chicken wrap, I could see that it was not exactly the case. That there is a real depth to this young man. That he is as classy a guy off the field as he is a full back on it. One of the finest in the English game judging by performances that have secured him a place in the Cameroon team.
A few months ago, he was in the headlines for comments he was said to have made about Wayne Rooney. The report, translated from a French football magazine, said he had branded the Manchester United striker 'a dirty prostitute sh***er'.
'I really don't care if he ***** prostitutes,' he says. 'I really don't. What people do in their private lives is up to them. The journalist in France ask me about Rooney. She say he doesn't score a lot of goals. I say yeah. She say he sleeps with prostitutes. I say yeah, and then I say his wife have to be sad. And it end up in the paper, "Rooney a ***** sh***er".
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I saw Patrice Evra when we played United, and I told him to pass on a message to Rooney. I told him it was a bad translation and he said "cool". When I saw Rooney last weekend, in the line-up when we all shake hands, he smiled at me. He understands.'
But Assou-Ekotto has no interest in being a man-about-town, chasing the girls who hope to be pursued by our super-rich sports stars. Recently he said he prefers to stay with his girlfriend of eight or nine years because 'it would not be good to change at 26'.
When reminded of this, he starts to laugh. 'I could be single again if I want to finish my life alone,' he says. 'Maybe it would be interesting, yeah. But I don't want to meet a girl who has been touched by a player from Fulham or Chelsea. You understand? Fantastic. If I meet a model and she has known 255 men before me, I'm really not interested. I prefer to keep my one; someone I have known for a long time. I wouldn't say I'm religious. I stay in bed on a Sunday morning. But I had a Christian upbringing and I believe in God. I don't play with my girlfriend.
'I have nothing against the culture of girls in football. I will go out with the players sometimes to the nightclubs. I was not there in Ireland (when Spurs players went to Dublin against Harry Redknapp's wishes). I had to go to France. But this year I was there. Two years ago I was with them. It's just I don't drink. I have never drunk.'
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If truth be told, he doesn't really socialise with his Tottenham team-mates. 'Because I am with them every morning, I don't have a need to see them in the afternoon,' he says diplomatically.
But it brings us to some of the accusations he has levelled at many of his contemporaries. What he sees as the more cynical side of the game. The hypocrisy. 'For me it's not difficult to see it,' he says. 'But I just tolerate it, the way we have to tolerate many things in the world.
'I think I am a cool man and I try to be honest when I give my opinion. I don't care if you like me or dislike me. I really don't. Which is why I can be honest. As long as I feel good in my skin. I just wonder why some people carry on the way they do. When they make an interview and say I want to be at a club for ever, kissing the badge, blah, blah, blah, and in six months they are not there any more. I wonder why they lied six months before.
'Or when they sign for a club claiming they wanted to play for them all their lives. I see no point in doing that. I come here because it's a cool club - not because I dreamed of one day playing for Tottenham. I never dreamed about any club. I just wanted to be a footballer.' He has said football is not his 'passion'. That it is only a job. Again, he wants to explain.
'If I am at home with my friends, I love to play football,' he says. 'I only play in goal these days because I do not want to go back to the training ground injured, but I have fun. When you play as a professional it is different. It doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. Being a footballer is a fantastic career.
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'And I enjoy my life at Tottenham. I like Harry Redknapp. He is cool guy. I like him for not making us stay in a hotel the night before home matches. He trusts us. Treats us like men.
'And I enjoy playing in this team. With Gareth Bale. We have a telepathy. As we showed against Inter Milan, we are capable of anything. Now, though, we have a problem. Having tasted the Champions League, we do not want to finish fifth and the manager gets angry when we drop points.'
Passion, however, is something he says he has for his 'projects'. As well as being a United Nations ambassador in the fight against poverty in Africa - his late father, himself a professional footballer, arrived in France from Cameroon at 16, eventually marrying a French schoolmistress - he supports a boys team and a girls team in Woodford, supplying the under 12s with their kit. When asked if he wanted to have his name on the kit, he instead asked that they use the logo for the UN's End Poverty Campaign.
'I don't have to cut my arm to pay for the kit,' he says. 'But it is something I enjoy doing, and the kind of thing I might do when I am no longer a player. What I will do, after this, I think about every day. I think I would like to be involved in a charity in Africa. Maybe as chairman? Although my wife and kids - hopefully my girlfriend will want to have kids with me - might have something to say about that.'
They might first demand that he gets a bigger car.
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Interesting piece, tbh, not that I'm taking that as gospel, but it goes to show how badly the media can portray people who've done little wrong.
Good taste in cars, too. GT500 =
In Spain by the way now guys
thanks, all west ham fans
i really can't understand why you want to move to the other side off london, i can understand wanting a bigger Stadium
it must be further than that, 5 miles seems far too close, looking at google maps the lane is far closer than i thought it was
point still stays that most west ham fan don't want the Stadium, plus we will end up looking like wigan once we go down
plus your plans are better for the site anyway
Anyway bar humbug to the cup tomorrow, need to focus all efforts possible on the league.
its a case off coming back in and out again
plus you don't drive to football cars takes half the fun of it away