Assou-Ekotto starting afresh with father figure Redknapp
As Gareth Bale was being smugly paraded around the Bernabeu like some shiny Welsh trinket, another of Tottenham's favourite sons was preparing to slip through the White Hart Lane exit door in an altogether less glamorous fashion.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto's loan move to QPR went under the radar, what with so much focus on Mesut Ozil’s arrival at Arsenal, and Manchester United’s curious deadline-day antics. However, it won’t have escaped the attention of Tottenham’s fans, despite the recent influx of new players to N17.
The Cameroon international's popularity at Tottenham is not just down to his performances on the pitch, but also his bizarre tweets and famously forthright interviews. He also appears to have a stronger social conscience than most in his wage bracket (he once suggested all footballers should donate 1 or 2% of their wage to their local communities), and clearly takes pride in representing an area of London that doesn't always get a good press.
“I think we stigmatise the area a little bit too much - I’ve been going there for seven years and never had a problem," Assou-Ekotto told the Haringey Independent earlier this summer.
“With my hair I have to go to this part of London - I have gone there for the past six or seven years. When I was young I had a Ferrari or Bentley or Cayenne, which I would park on the street, and I never had a problem with anyone.
“When I speak with people in London, they say Tottenham is a ghetto but I know a few ghettos in France and I don’t go there with my sports car to cut my hair."
But all of that doesn’t much help Andre Villas-Boas, a man now under great pressure to take Tottenham into the Champions League having been afforded the opportunity to rebuild the side to his own specifications over the summer.
Villas-Boas is a man with a renowned eye for the game’s finer details. Assou-Ekotto, probably by his own admission, is not. This is, after all, a player who Harry Redknapp previously suggested wouldn’t know who he was about to play against on any given weekend.
Assou-Ekotto has often frankly stated that money is his primary motivation and that he "didn't want to work in an office where I would be paid €1,500-a-month and, at the end of my career, be able to buy a little suburban apartment". Could it be that there's now a lack of ambition to push on, to continue to learn and improve? That would certainly seem the kind of thing that would irk Villas-Boas.
The Portuguese infamously struggled when attempting to move popular figures out of Chelsea’s first team, and it could well be that those experiences taught him to tread more carefully – and slowly – this time round.
Assou-Ekotto was given opportunities to prove his worth in the second half of last season, but his performances were nowhere near the standard of previous seasons. In the end, even the right-footed Kyle Naughton seemed to have moved ahead of him in the queue for a place on the left of the back four. Many Spurs fans were cold on their new manager last season, so that the marginalisation of a cult hero led to no real pronounced supporter displeasure speaks volumes – as does the fact a manager who puts such emphasis on preparation was willing to let him leave without signing a replacement.
On the basis of their respective showings last season, Danny Rose – who spent a successful year on loan at Sunderland – will have looked a far safer bet to Villas-Boas. At 29, it’s hard to see that there’s a way back for Assou-Ekotto at Tottenham, and after a year of stalling he must now look to kick-start his career once more. Reportedly his love of London – and Harry Redknapp – led him to choose Shepherd’s Bush, rather than Rome or Istanbul.
It’s not at all surprising Assou-Ekotto would associate Redknapp with the resurrection – after all, it was the QPR boss who helped the full-back establish himself after an injury-hit two years had seen him become a forgotten figure at White Hart Lane. He had even, at one stage, been told by his surgeon that he may never play again.
Fortunately for Assou-Ekotto and Tottenham that was not the case, and under Redknapp he found more confidence and composure, quickly growing from a fringe player to one of the best full-backs in the league.
He displaced hapless Brazil international Gilberto and a certain Gareth Bale from the left-back spot, becoming one of few regular starters in a team that featured much chopping and changing as Redknapp got his feet under the table.
The old story has it that an injury to Assou-Ekotto in the spring of 2010 allowed Madrid's newest Galactico his big break at White Hart Lane - but the Welshman benefitted more from having the full-back playing behind him in the months and years that followed. The pair dovetailed superbly and were, until Bale's move to a more central role last season, arguably the Premier League's most devastating wide pairing.
The departure of Bale for Madrid, of course, ended any lingering hope of that partnership ever being rekindled, and with that perhaps also died any hope of any kind of reprieve for Assou-Ekotto at Tottenham.
There’ll be other familiar faces waiting for him at Loftus Road – former Spurs team-mates Jermaine Jenas and Niko Kranjcar are both at the club, while Tom Carroll also moved on loan to the west Londoners yesterday. Assou-Ekotto’s best friend in football, Adel Taarabt, is himself on loan at Fulham.
The key figure though, will be Redknapp, who seems to be the only manager to know what makes one of football’s more unusual characters tick.