Assou-Ekotto: a story of undeserved hate

Former Tottenham left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto is the target of derision for many football fans – not because of instances of thuggery or for espousing unsavoury views, but simply because he has that rarest of qualities: he’s honest.

Most footballers these days, particularly the younger ones who have spent most of their lives being coddled by academies – including, pertinently, relentless media training of the kind that makes them respond to almost every question with the same robotic, give-nothing-away answers.

Assou-Ekotto, however, is cut from a different cloth. Ask him why he plays football and he won’t bore you with spiel about how he is trying to channel his inner little boy (we’re looking at you, Robin van Persie), or how it’s been his dream to play for Celtic (and Aston Villa, and Tottenham, and Liverpool, and LA Galaxy) for his whole life (*cough* Robbie Keane *cough*). He’ll tell you, simply: he plays for the money.

… why did I come here? For a job. A career is only 10, 15 years. It’s only a job. Yes, it’s a good, good job and I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion.

Assou-Ekotto, speaking to The Guardian

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In the football world, particularly in England, saying that is seen as an affront to the fans, a lot of whom prefer to view the game as something pure, and the clubs they support less as businesses than families, to which players should show indelible loyalty (even, it seems, if they had no childhood connection to the team or area prior to joining).

But that’s more than a little idealistic – the fact is the vast majority of us are ultimately motivated by monetary considerations when we mull over the next step in our careers. Assou-Ekotto is no more obliged to get a warm fuzzy feeling when he thinks about playing football than you are when you sit down in front of your computer screen when you get your office.

Besides, it’s not as though you can take what players say when put in front of a camera as red. Luke Shaw, in an effort to win the PR battle against his manager, is already talking about loving Manchester United, despite only being at Old Trafford for a little over 18 months, most of which time he’s spent either on the treatment table or being used as Jose Mourinho’s punching bag.

If you want a more egregious example, look no further than his United teammate Wayne Rooney, who – behind closed doors – demanded a bumper new contract whilst speaking publicly about his team’s lack of footballing ambition. The point is: many players, albeit privately, share Assou-Ekotto’s outlook – a point the Cameroon defender has made himself in the past.

I can’t listen to people when they speak like that. 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.

Assou-Ekotto, speaking to The Guardian

His relationship with Spurs – the club where he spent nine years, the bulk of which as its first choice left-back – turned sour towards the end, when he turned down a host of opportunities to leave the club, apparently unprepared to take a pay cut. To many, he was milking the club dry, and there’s a valid argument to be made: does it really make much difference whether you’re making £40,000 or £20,000 a week – especially when that’s roughly equivalent to a lot of people’s annual salaries?

At the same time, it was Tottenham’s decision to offer him a long-term lucrative contract, and the player – with a long-term future to consider beyond a relatively short career on the field – had every right to accept it.

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