Money not motivating Premier League's elite


As a boy growing up, the dream was always to become a professional footballer.

It wasn’t just my dream, of course. It was, and still is, the dream of millions of children around the world.

The potential to become a legend for your favourite club, or even go to the next level and represent your country on the international stage – the biggest possible honour in your future career.

It’s not just the game which lures people in anymore though, with the celebrity element attached to professional footballers an additional draw.

With that comes the huge riches a player can expect, at the top level at least, with guaranteed multi-millionaire status for the vast majority who grace the English Premier League stage.

Whilst that was never a motivational factor for me, it’s something that can’t be dismissed when a youngster ponders all the reasons to try and forge a career in ‘the business’.

Few modern day professionals would ever dream of admitting that it’s all about the money, and for the vast majority you’d like to think it isn’t.

For Benoit Assou-Ekotto, back in 2010, it was simply another day at the office for a pay cheque though.

"If I play football with my friends back in France, I can love football. But if I come to England, where I knew nobody and I didn't speak English … why did I come here? For a job,” he told The Guardian.

“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.

“I arrive in the morning at the training ground at 10.30 and I start to be professional. I finish at one o'clock and I don't play football afterwards. When I am at work, I do my job 100%. But after, I am like a tourist in London. I have my Oyster card and I take the tube. I eat.

"I don't understand why everybody lies. The president of my former club Lens, Gervais Martel, said I left because I got more money in England, that I didn't care about the shirt. I said: 'Is there one player in the world who signs for a club and says, Oh, I love your shirt?' Your shirt is red. I love it. He doesn't care. The first thing that you speak about is the money.

"Martel said I go to England for the money but why do players come to his club? Because they look nice? All people, everyone, when they go to a job, it's for the money. So I don't understand why, when I said I play for the money, people were shocked. Oh, he's a mercenary. Every player is like that."

It’s the simplicity of Assou-Ekotto’s statement that is striking, not to mention the obvious logic. Fans love to believe that a player will do anything for the club. After all, they are paid well enough to do it.

But, if you move from another European country to a team you’ve probably only ever seen on TV, as was probably the case with Assou-Ekotto, then what was the purpose of the move. It’s likely that money will be an important factor.

Things would seem different for younger players who move from the lower-leagues to the top flight, with the obvious incentive of enhancing your career on a bigger stage.

But with it comes the signing-on fee, increased weekly wage and better endorsement deals for being at the bigger club. Money can serve as a big motivator, not least to agents, who earn their cut for playing a part in any possible switch.

The lines are slightly blurry when it comes to players moving through the levels in England and foreign players making the switch from one country to another. Affiliation and affection seems much more obviously if you move between the boarders your familiar with.

A player will know what to expect, if he moves from Macclesfield Town to Manchester United, but if you jump from the French leagues to England, things are going to be different. Public persona, fan mentality, expectation levels, and board attitudes are just some of the possible pointers.

At the time of Assou-Ekotto’s comments, times were proving tough at Tottenham. The full-back cut a lonely figure, featured rarely under Martin Jol and Juande Ramos, and admitted to not believing in friendships in football.

But, under Harry Redknapp at White Hart Lane, he appears to have found a new desire and joy for the game. It’s said that if a worker doesn’t enjoy their job, they won’t produce their best. If that is the case, then Assou-Ekotto has fallen in love with football again, and imagines his ‘home’ in north London to be like his grassroots kick-about with friends he referred to back in France.

“My focus is giving 100% of myself on the pitch to make the fans happy. Spurs can win the title, like Manchester City, Manchester United and maybe like Chelsea,” he said recently.

"If I had to ask the manager to give me a game, then I know I would not play well because part of me would feel like I'm here because I asked for it.

"I only want to be there because the manager knows I can do the job. That's the only time I can give 100% - because I know I'm there by merit.

"So kissing up to the manager to get a game is not for me. This is maybe why the words that come out of my mouth are not always the ones people want to hear. It's not in my nature."

As is often the case, honesty provides us with the answer. Assou-Ekotto, like all footballers, wants to be needed. No player wants to sit on the bench, watch game-after-game and go home with money in the pocket. Even if you’re paid well, you’d rather play and earn than just earn when it comes to the game.

People respect someone who works hard and is good at their job. Football, in this instance, is the same as life.

Assou-Ekotto is in the form of his life in north London this season, and I doubt it has anything to do with a pay rise. When an individual creates a bond with a club, you can expect to see their very best.

A firm fans favourite, the Spurs left-back has endeared himself with an attacking-style of play that's brought goals and assists behind Gareth Bale this season.

One can only imagine it brings an enjoyment factor no financial figure could match. That was what I dreamed about as a boy anyway, playing in a winning side with the fans singing my name.

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