My football team, Tottenham, has several players I can’t help but like; Gareth Bale, who has suddenly arrived fully formed, marauding and determined. Aaron Lennon, who is all kinks and jinks. Luca Modric, who is a footballer whose every decision oozes intelligence. Peter Crouch, who when asked what he’d be if it wasn’t for football, answered ‘a virgin’.
But I have a special affection for Benoît Assou-Ekotto, because, unlike pretty much every footballer I can think of, he makes no professions of love for the beautiful game. In fact, he’s not a football fan at all. In a recent interview, his manager, Harry Redknapp, noted that “he’s a strange boy … He’ll turn up Wednesday and play great, but he won’t know we’re playing Fulham until someone tells him. That’s how he is. He’s unreal. He walks off and he’s thinking about the music he’s going to play when he puts his headphones on”.
He’s interviewed in the Guardian today – it’s a lovely read, where he lays into the bland, anodyne culture of British football and the fake badge-kissing that its overpaid footballers so regularly indulge in.
“I arrive in the morning at the training ground at 10.30 and I start to be professional. I finish at one o’clock and I don’t play football afterwards. When I am at work, I do my job 100%. But after, I am like a tourist in London. I have my Oyster card and I take the tube. I eat.
I don’t understand why everybody lies. The president of my former club Lens, Gervais Martel, said I left because I got more money in England, that I didn’t care about the shirt. I said: ‘Is there one player in the world who signs for a club and says, Oh, I love your shirt?’ Your shirt is red. I love it. He doesn’t care. The first thing that you speak about is the money.”
He calls himself a mercenary – and the implication of that is negative. But really he just talks honestly about his job, and shows a refreshing contempt for his fellow footballers, so many of whom have been dragged into disrepute in recent months and years.
“I know that they lie, and I hate lies. Me, I am not like that. I am honest all of the time, although the truth is not always good to say.”
Benoit, in case you wondered, is a really pretty good left-back. He’s hard working, slightly pissy, consistent. You get the feeling he’d rather be on the tube, using his Oyster card. I like him.