In a summer’s upheaval where the departure of Paul Lambert to Aston Villa and Grant Holt’s will-he-won’t-he transfer dilemma dominated Norfolk news, the £4 million arrival of Sebastian Bassong at Norwich slipped under the radar.
That the Canaries have flown up the Premier League table in recent weeks, is down in no small part to the totemic ex-Spurs defender’s strength, consistency and will to win from centre-back. Unbeaten since early October, Chris Hughton’s well-drilled 4-4-1-1 is underpinned by Bassong, who with three goals in his last four games has developed a happy knack for finding the net.
The 26-year-old sits down with FFT to discuss all things Hughton and Norwich, which mustard is best and why he loves Jeremy Kyle…
Norwich didn’t win any of your first seven, but since then, you’ve beaten Arsenal and Manchester United at Carrow Road and steadily climbed the table. What changed?
Not much, really. We’ve been working really hard since the beginning of the season, when there were a lot of changes – new players came in and the manager changed so I think we needed a bit of time to gel properly. Chris Hughton brings his own mentality so it took a bit of time, but what you’re seeing now is the result of the work we had already done. Only the results have changed.
How have you settled at Norwich?
Pretty well, I think. Everyone at the club, in the dressing room, the manager and coaches have helped me settle down very quickly, so I’m very grateful to them for that. I’m really happy here.
How different is Norwich to Newcastle, London or your place of birth Paris?
It’s quite similar to Newcastle – a small city where people are really, really friendly. London and Paris are a bit different because they’re capitals, so there’s a sense you have to rush all the time. Norwich is more of a country city and London is, well, London. They have different styles, but I like both of them.
You worked with Chris Hughton at Newcastle, was he a big factor in you coming here?
He was the main factor, I get on with him really well. He took my first training session in English football when he was first team coach at Newcastle and that’s something that stayed with me. It’s always easier to work with someone when you already have a relationship with them and the fact he had a fine career as a defender at Spurs is a big help. In those early days, he taught me a lot about the art of defending in England, and still does.
What are Norwich’s goals for the season?
Our first target is to stay up. This is our second Premier League season, so we are prepared to fight until we avoid relegation, but now we’re here want to establish ourselves in this division. Then we can look further, so why not a good cup run? The FA Cup would be brilliant.
Norwich is famous for Colman’s mustard. So what’s better Colman’s mustard or Dijon?
[In a flash] Colman’s. I just prefer the taste. When I’m cooking some red meat or something I’d never go for French mustard, it’s English – and Colman’s – all the way. And that’s not because I’m playing for Norwich, it’s all about the taste!
Has Delia Smith cooked anything for you yet?
Not yet, but I’m looking forward to it as soon as I’m really settled down, just to get a meal from her. [FFT: A pie perhaps?] Absolutely, they’re famous. I’ve got to taste it!
Have you ever heard of Alan Partridge?
[FFT embarks on a lengthy attempt to explain Norwich’s finest broadcaster]
Have you ever stayed in a hotel for an extended period of time?
Yeah, while I was looking for a house, when I first came here. That usually happens when you move club, that’s the life of a footballer. But I was really nice, to all the staff. I’m always nice! [FFT: Watch Alan Partridge, it’s good...] Yeah, OK, I’ll watch it!
What was it like playing for Harry Redknapp at Spurs?
It was slightly mixed. At the start it was great because I played a lot, but it ended in a weird situation. In general it was good to play for him, he brings his experience and a little bit of magic, I don’t know exactly what it is but I think he’s a great manager for that. He knows how to get the best out of his players, puts them in really good condition and shows them real trust. You feel really confident and that’s why he gets results.
Do you think he’ll do well at QPR?
I hope so for him honestly because he used to be my manager, and I like him, so yeah hopefully he’s going to go well. It’s not going to be the easiest job, I think he’s aware of that, but he likes new challenges.
What’s your favourite memory from your time at Tottenham?
Probably my first goal in my first game. It was a winning goal against Liverpool on the opening day of a season where we qualified for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Playing in Europe was also a fantastic experience, I have to say.
Who are the best five strikers you’ve played against?
Ooh, that’s difficult. Louis Saha has great movement, is really clever and his experience makes him a great, great player. I’ve always struggled against him. Next would be Wayne Rooney, because Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney. He’s a top, top striker. Sergio Aguero’s not that big but he is really strong on his feet and has superb feel for the ball. He’s a great poacher, a real finisher who always knows where you are and plays off your shoulder. I would say Peter Crouch because you know he is so tall, and unbeatable in the air, but also has great ability with his feet. Robin Van Persie, finished top goal scorer last year so I have to put him in my top five. That left foot is incredible. I can’t pick an order, but they’re the five best.
What’s your favourite TV show in England?
[Immediately] Jeremy Kyle! It just cracks me up, how people can go there and just open themselves up about their life. It’s crazy! I’m a bit nosy so I like to know what people are doing in their lives, and it’s just funny. [Isn’t it on when you’re at training?] I’m usually at training so I can’t watch it, but I’ll either Sky+ it, or watch the repeat later in the day.
Who is your best friend in football?
Definitely Thomas Gamiette. He is my friend from back home in Paris, and is playing football as well, in Ligue 2 for Tours. He’s my best friend in life.
Who is the best player you’ve ever played with?
Samuel Eto’o. He’s my country-mate firstly, but he’s an amazing striker. I have played with loads of good players in my career but, when he was at his peak, he was the best striker in the world. He could have won the Ballon d’Or, for me.
Is there any player from the Cameroon national team, that you would like to see in the Premier League?
Yeah, my friend Nicolas N’Koulou, a central defender playing for Marseille. He’s young, got great quality and I think he’s going to move to a big club soon. I would also like to see Gaetan Bong, a left-back for the French club Valenciennes, in England because he has great quality. To be honest, I’d like to see loads come here and have a little group of Cameroonians!
Interview: Andrew Murray, December 2012.
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