MAIN INTERVIEW, PROGRAMME v WEST BROM, January 3, 2012
Exclusive interview with defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who reflects on our impressive 2011 and believes that the next 12 months could be even better. By Jon Rayner
As another new footballing year at White Hart Lane gets into its stride this evening, Benoit Assou-Ekotto echoes the sentiments of Spurs fans everywhere when he admits he is excited by what 2012 could potentially bring.
But while he allows himself the opportunity to dream ahead to the next 12 months, Benoit also reflects on 2011 with great pride both from a team and a personal perspective. And what a year it was!
It might not have been a year which saw us win silverware but in terms of sheer entertainment, drama and fantastic football, it will take some beating for those of a Spurs persuasion.
Our Cameroon defender was out there on the pitch virtually every step of the way, from the first game of the year when we beat Fulham here on New Year’s Day, right up until last week’s triumph at Carrow Road.
Prior to our trip to Swansea on Saturday, Benoit had featured in 40 of our 51 matches of 2011, starting 39 of them. He only missed the last five matches of last term through injury, and has been rested for most of our Europa League campaign this season.
Since his arrival from Lens in June, 2006, the left-back has continually improved year-upon-year to such an extent that he is one of the first names on Harry Redknapp’s teamsheet these days. Incredibly consistent and reliable, his partnership with Gareth Bale down our left flank has been one of the foundations of what was a fine 12 months.
Benoit certainly agrees that 2011 was a good year for the Club, as we ventured into the knockout stages of the Champions League against the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid and this season registered our best-ever run in the Premier League with six consecutive wins and finished the year third in the table, London’s top club.
But Assou-Ekotto believes last year has simply been continued progress and fully expects that to carry on into 2012 and beyond.
“I didn’t realise I had played so many times for the club in 2011, that’s very reassuring for me and I’m pleased I have been able to play my part,” said the 27-year-old. “It was a very good year for Tottenham, but I prefer to look back over the last three years with the club and see the progression that we have made in that time, it has been excellent.
“For me personally too, I just seem to enjoy it here more and more as time goes on, we are getting stronger and stronger. That’s great for the club and great for the players and fans too, we all enjoy playing in this team and I’m sure the supporters are enjoying watching us as well.
“You can see how much we have improved, even over the last 12 months. Just look at the table. We are in third place and deserve to be there.”
As is customary as a year draws to a close, everyone likes to reflect on the previous 12 months and pick out their highlights, so when asked what he felt was his favourite moment of 2011, Benoit insisted it was tough to select just one.
“As I said, it was a good year so it is difficult to choose one game or one moment,” he added. “For me, winning in the San Siro against AC Milan in the Champions League was certainly one of the highlights, but beating Arsenal is always special too, so our win against them at the Lane when Kyle scored that great goal is another great memory from 2011. I hope the next 12 months will bring more special moments.”
Just how special can this year be though? After the stylish 2-0 victory over Norwich City last week, debates raged in the media and no doubt among fans too as to whether we could actually win the Premier League this season. Some pundits suggested our style of football and strong squad means we could go all the way, while others felt we were not quite at the level of the two Manchester clubs ahead of us in the table, but Benoit says all we can do is keep trying to win football matches and see where that takes us.
“Our minimum target is to finish in the top four, that’s what we have always set out to do this season. After that, anything is possible! This is football, no-one can predict what will happen over the next five months,” continued Assou-Ekotto.
“Look at the games after Christmas, everyone has been saying that Manchester City are invincible but then they drew at West Brom and it just showed that no-one is guaranteed a win in this division. We know West Brom are going to be just as difficult opponents for us tonight as they were for City the other day.
“But I only like to concentrate on us and our football. We are winning matches and this season winning away from home too, which shows we are a good team. I honestly feel that we are no longer looking behind us at other team’s results, we are the ones getting the results and instead, they are looking up at us hoping we slip up.”
Tonight’s visit of West Brom marks our fourth league game in 13 days over the busy festive period, yet it doesn’t get any easier for us as we then face three more games in eight days, starting with the FA Cup tie against Cheltenham Town on Saturday. Such a demanding schedule has taken some getting used for Benoit, but now that he has come to terms with it, he can appreciate the public’s continual thirst for games.
“It’s strange at this time of year, people remember the things that really matter, like family, health and, of course, football,” he said. “As players, the period is slightly different, it’s non-stop and the importance of each game is clear for all to see.
“What I like is the unique role football plays in this period and I learned this when I first came to England. It is intense, but we cannot afford to relax as every match is so vital for our season.”
Having been with us for five-and-a-half years now, Benoit has already seen many changes in personnel as players have come and gone, but he has no doubts that this current squad is the best he has ever been part of, with two players in particular making a real difference from last year’s group.
“The quality of players we have in every position makes this easily the best squad I have played in and we have that winning mentality now too,” he insists. “Almost every player is an international and we’ve been lifted this season by the arrival of Scott and Ade.
“Scott is a natural leader, the first day he was with us and got changed in the dressing room, you could tell he was a very positive guy. He motivates the whole team and has been a great addition.
“As for Ade, what can I say? He has played at some of the world’s best clubs and has great experience. He is one of Africa’s biggest players – but not as big as me though,” he smiles.