Benoit Assou-Ekotto is not surprised former team-mate Harry Kane is still at Spurs, despite the England captain believing he had a gentleman’s agreement with chairman Daniel Levy that he could join Manchester City.
Assou-Ekotto, a cult figure and independent thinker during nine years at Tottenham between 2006 and 2015, says he also had an understanding with Levy he could leave for a Champions League club, but a deal never materialised.
Now 37, he realises that at the top level of football, a verbal promise is not worth the paper it is written on.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto spent nine seasons at White Hart Lane between 2006 and 2015
‘Sometimes, a gentleman’s agreement is made but people will still end up defending their interest,’ he says.
‘I wasn’t happy with Daniel at the time because he didn’t respect what he said and I thought, “this man is not honest” but on reflection since I’ve retired I understand the way he thinks to protect his business.
‘In football, maybe in a lot of jobs, when you don’t sign the paper, you can say whatever you want. Harry will understand later, it’s business. Believe no one in football.
Where there is that amount of money, there is no honesty spoken. I appreciate Harry’s point of view, but also Daniel’s.’
Assou-Ekotto felt Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy didn’t honour an agreement with him
Much as he did last summer when he turned down Harry Kane’s transfer request
Assou-Ekotto acknowledged using football as a means to a better life. He feels vindicated in being able to retire at 35 and having no financial worries as a full-time dad to two young children in Arras, France.
He is glad Kane is scoring again, having played against Shamrock Rovers in 2011 —when Kane got his first Tottenham goal — and on his Premier League debut against Newcastle the following year.
He never dreamt the striker would reach the heights he has. Former Spurs forward Rafael van der Vaart revealed in an interview that he had been underwhelmed by Kane’s first training session, saying: ‘When the ball was passed to him, I could not believe how he tried to control it.
‘I swear I said to [goalkeeper] Heurelho Gomes, “he can’t kick a f***ing ball”.
After a difficult start to the season, Kane has started scoring again regularly for Spurs
The England captain has found the net four times in the last five Premier League games
Assou-Ekotto concurs. ‘We used to play sometimes with Harry because Emmanuel Adebayor was injured or something like that,’ he says.
‘It left Harry as our only striker and when he was there it was, “Oh s***, Harry Kane, we know he won’t score goals for us today”.
‘But he was young. When I see the progression of this man, I say “Wow, he is unbelievable”. ‘As a young striker, he was not strong.
‘Maybe it was the same when I came to Tottenham at 22 years old. Maybe the players used to think, “Ah, this man” but a few years later I am pretty sure they were OK with me.
Assou-Ekotto acknowledged he didn’t have high expectations for Kane when the latter made his Spurs debut back in 2011
Assou-Ekotto was on the pitch when Kane (left) scored his first Spurs goal in December 2011
‘When he was at the start, Harry Kane was not strong or quick. It was difficult, for him and us.’
At Spurs, Assou-Ekotto thrived on a maverick image that contrasted with the stereotype of an average footballer.
He would mix with Spurs fans travelling around London on the tube and hang out in the coffee bars of Soho. Being teetotal would give him the task of making sure everyone got home safely from Christmas parties.
Assou-Ekotto became a cult hero among Spurs fans during his nine years at White Hart Lane
The Cameroonian has fond memories of his time in England and still follows Spurs
Though he stopped playing professionally relatively early — Metz was his last club — he still turns out in local veterans’ leagues in France.
‘England was the best time of my career. After that I lost motivation so I stopped in order to be happy,’ he says. ‘I know I’m privileged that football has given me the opportunity to care for my family without stress.
‘England will always be special to me — I am better known there than in France. If I’m in London, Spurs fans will talk to me.
‘If someone wants a picture, then no problem, let’s do a nice one with both of us smiling.’
Assou-Ekotto was at Spurs for the club’s most recent trophy, the 2008 League Cup
But he missed the final against Chelsea through injury and was in the stands at Wembley
Sunday’s game at Chelsea is a repeat of the 2008 League Cup final, the last trophy Spurs won.
Assou- Ekotto was at the club but missed the final through injury, supporting the team from the stands at Wembley.
And he says: ‘To be a full back these days looks a really tough gig. I wasn’t tired at the end of games but now the full backs are up and down from the first minute. They are 200 per cent athletes.
Spurs fans have grown frustrated with Levy for failing to deliver trophies in over a decade
‘I was at Spurs for nine years, I cannot support another club. It has been a long time for us without a trophy but when you see what other clubs spend on big names, maybe they have to pay a bit more to touch the dream.
‘Daniel does not do it like that. Some rich people are in football to be popular. Daniel doesn’t need to be popular.
‘He sees it as a business and the idea is to spend less money and still make good results. It’s hard to say he’s wrong when Spurs get to a Champions League final.
Other clubs have spent a billion and not done it.’
Assou-Ekotto’s best spell at Spurs came under Harry Redknapp but the two are no longer on speaking terms after the latter criticised the Cameroonian’s focus and commitment
Assou-Ekotto’s best spell in north London came under Harry Redknapp but they are no longer on speaking terms.
When Redknapp tried to sign the left back for Birmingham in 2017, he claimed Assou-Ekotto wanted to be a porn star instead of concentrating on football.
‘I don’t talk to him now,’ said Assou-Ekotto. ‘The last joke he made about me, my mum asked why my friend said I wanted to be a porn star. I didn’t want to be a porn star, so I checked Google and it was Redknapp.
‘I told everyone my old manager has made a s*** joke. My mum was being asked in the street: “Is your son going to be a porn star?” Maybe he didn’t take seriously the consequence of this joke. I don’t speak to him.’
‘I’M NOT SORRY FOR THE HEADBUTT’
Benoit Assou-Ekotto will return to Cameroon this week to support his countrymen in the Africa Cup of Nations which they are hosting.
His international career featured an infamous incident at the 2014 World Cup when Assou-Ekotto headbutted team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo at the end of a 4-0 defeat against Croatia, though the pair later made up.
‘I don’t have to be sorry about it. It wasn’t like I did it after five minutes and got a red card,’ says Assou-Ekotto.
Assou-Ekotto headbutted team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo during the 2014 World Cup
‘He tried to dribble past players rather than pass for me to cross.
‘It was selfish so I asked him about it, and he told me “Come on, move”.
‘I didn’t like the attitude because I always thought for the good of the team so I gave that reaction.’