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Edgar Davids gives his unique views of Roberto Mancini, Fabio Capello, his new job at Barnet and fashion

EXCLUSIVE: Edgar Davids gives his unique views of Mancini (lacks people skills), Capello (tactical genius), his new job at Barnet (I'm not being paid a penny) and fashion (it's important, man)

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UPDATED:

00:00 GMT, 17 November 2012

Edgar Davids has an opinion and, as is usually the case, he is not overwhelmed by a desire to keep it to himself. This time, it's about his interviewer's choice of clothing.

'It's safe,' he says. 'But there is no adventure. You wear a suit, but you are not trying to tell me something about who you are. It lacks flair. That's not for me. You should try something, man.'

Quite a spectacle: Edgar Davids at Barnet's training ground

Quite a spectacle: Edgar Davids at Barnet's training ground

The assault is not entirely unexpected. Davids, once the 'Pitbull' midfielder of some of European football's greatest sides, has been talking about fashion for more than five minutes.

'It's my passion,' he says. He is the creative director of Monta, a company specialising in street soccer apparel, and was previously engaged to Olcay Gulsen, a renowned designer.

Davids on… Wilfried Zaha

When I was at Palace, he was a big talent but
nothing more. He was also developing bad habits technically and no-one was stopping him. His end product was very poor at times, but now he is really showing his talent. He has worked hard at his game.

One rumour suggests that he turned away a journalist because he was unimpressed by an outfit.

'That did not happen,' Davids says. 'If I refused to speak, it wouldn't have been because of his clothes. However, if I thought he wasn't looking sharp, I probably would have told him. Fashion is important, man.'

And yet here he is, the winner of six league titles, 12 domestic cups, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League, talking about his new life as the 39-year-old player-manager of League Two Barnet, a club in the basement of British football and rarely considered to be chic.

'I don't get paid a dime to be here,' he says.

On the ball: Davids at the club's training ground

On the ball: Davids shows off his skills

Own style: Davids passes on some advice to one of the young players

Own style: Davids passes on some advice to one of the young players

It's the summer of 2012, and a Greek neighbour has called. 'Fancy a Sunday league game' he asks. Davids has been living in north London since his days at Tottenham, but has only really played Street Soccer events since leaving Crystal Palace after a three-month stint in 2010.

Davids on… ‘the greats’

I played with the best. Zinedine Zidane made me look differently at star players. Some guys with that talent don’t work so hard or want different treatment. Not him. Man, those skills. One player people don’t ask me about but should is Ledley King. Left and right foot perfect, fast, almost never made a foul. Technically, he is so gifted. So relaxed on the ball. But those knees.

'I coached a team in Brixton – Brixton United – for a while,' he says. 'We won two cups. They are a good team, but I only coached. No playing.'

The phone call from his neighbour doesn't appeal so much.

'I said, “No, man”, but I woke up in the morning and thought, “You know what Let's kick a ball around”. 'In the first half, I was like, “OK, let's keep it simple, move it around”. But then in the second half, I said the famous words that I got in trouble for on television last week.

'I just thought, “Hey, I'm f*****g Edgar Davids. I didn't want people to go away and say, “I played against Edgar Davids, it was OK”. I wanted them to say, “I played against f*****g Edgar Davids and he was nutmegging me”.

'Man, second half, I did like six nutmegs and got one assist. We won.'

The game prompts a second phone call, this time from Tony Kleanthous, the Greek-Cypriot chairman of Barnet who has heard on the grapevine that Davids dusted off his boots.

Edgar Davids of Barnet photographed exclusively at the club's training ground

Standing out: Davids is enjoying the challenge

Dressing down: Davids offers some style tips to our man Riath Al-Samarrai

Dressing down: Davids offers some style tips to our man Riath Al-Samarrai

Construction work continues on the club's new ground

Big job: Work continues on the new stadium in the background

Edgar Davids at the club's training ground

Front man: Davids leads by example in training

'A friend of mine gave him my number and then I get this call,' Davids says. 'He asked if I wanted to come over for a look.

'I saw the amazing training ground and listened to his plans for the future. It worked for me.'

Davids on… Barcelona

What a team. Would I have been good enough for today’s team Absolutely. You know what it is with Barcelona They play in the half of the opponent so the space is very small and the passes are very hard. To excel, it requires those skills and I have proven I possess those skills. I can do the same as Sergio Busquets or Javier Mascherano.

An agreement was reached and Davids was last month named as joint manager with Mark Robson. The club were bottom of the Football League.

'I've never had a big dream to be a manager, but I'm a curious guy and I want to see if I like it. I've been doing my coaching badges, just the (UEFA) “A” Licence to go, and this was a good chance to play a few games and learn about management.

'You know, I've worked for some pretty good managers so I have a few ideas.'

SIXTY. That's the number of major league titles and cups won by the managers Davids worked under for Ajax, AC Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Tottenham, Crystal Palace and Holland. Between them, they have won the Champions League/European Cup seven times and a World Cup.

'Some were good, others not so good,' Davids says. 'I try to take the good bits from them and leave the bad, but also trying to keep my own identity. I don't want to be anyone's mimic.'

Action man: Davids against Accrington Stanley on Friday night

Action man: Davids against Accrington Stanley on Friday night

Boost: Barnet's Mark /11/16/article-2234184-1611B6C3000005DC-445_634x525.jpg

Still a pitbull: Davids is sent off against Accrington

The list of influences includes Louis
van Gaal, Marcello Lippi, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Fabio
Capello, Roberto Mancini and Guus Hiddink. Hiddink sent Davids home from
Euro 96 after a radio interview in which he said the national team
manager 'should stop putting his head in some players' a***s'.

'We
made up and got on fine after that,' Davids says. 'I don't talk about
best managers,' he adds, but does so anyway. 'Van Gaal as a trainer was
one of the best – it was incredible how well he prepared for games.
Lippi was very, very good. He knew his team, he knew how to meld
together a group and make it a team.

Davids on… London

I just love living here. It is so multicultural. I love
that diversity. In Amsterdam, we have it a lot, and it’s like that here. Any dish you want you can have — Japanese, Indian, Chinese. You can go from Asian to black to Jewish in the same neighbourhood. It is a reflection of society nowadays. It’s why I love Brixton — a melting pot.

'Capello taught me so much about systems, about 4-4-2, how to pressure and squeeze a team.

'Rijkaard is not a good trainer but he is a really good manager of
people. You can see Mancini lacks people management, big time.' He adds:
'I don't want to talk negative about somebody. I do not want to talk
about Mancini as there were not so many positive things.'

At Barnet's training ground, Davids'
management style is developing. He is 'a little frustrated' by the
standard but says that is 'the challenge that makes me come down here
for nothing'. The players call him 'Mr' or 'Sir' and he does likewise in
return. 'I told them it is out of the question to call me Edgar. I
don't want to be called boss because I told them they are their own
boss,' he says.

Results have improved quite dramatically. Friday's night's 1-1 draw with Accrington Stanley meant they had picked up 11 points from the seven League Two fixtures played since Davids' arrival (they took three points from the previous 11). And the 'Pitbull' still has a bite – he was sent off in the 85th minute after receiving a second booking for a foul on James Beattie, the former Everton striker.

Graham Stack, the keeper, talks of the squad being driven upwards by a 'fear factor' from playing with 'one of the best in the world'.

Davids is content with his life. 'The feeling of stepping out to play for Barnet for the first time was the same as a Champions League match. It is just joy, an innocent joy. I love to play football and will continue as long as I feel that.

'Maybe I will love management – we will see. This is fun. But you never know. Maybe one day I will own a club. That is a possibility, too. Or maybe I will leave and go into fashion.'

With that, the interview ends and Davids gets up to leave. 'Your coat,' he says. 'Double-breasted. That's very, very safe, man.'

London 2012 Olympics: 60 per cent of athletes are using drugs, claims disgraced supplier

Games drugs slur: Chambers' doping guru claims 60 per cent of athletes are cheating

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UPDATED:

00:03 GMT, 9 August 2012

London's Olympic Games, praised around the globe for great sport and brilliant organisation, were smeared on Wednesday by the world’s most infamous dealer in sporting drugs.

Victor Conte, jailed in the United States for his role in supplying athletes such as Dwain Chambers and Marion Jones with so-called designer drugs, told The Times that six out of 10 athletes at the Games are taking banned substances.

He offered no evidence but the slur will muddy the waters of a Games that had previously escaped doping controversy.

Claim: Victor Conte says drugs are easy to use

Claim: Victor Conte says drugs are easy to use

The 62-year-old claimed to have been given the names of three top athletes who are ‘using the Dwain Chambers protocol’, a reference to the cocktail of seven drugs he gave to the British sprinter.

Leading figures at the Games poured scorn on his claims. Lord Moynihan, chairman of the BOA, told Sportsmail: ‘Victor Conte is sadly discredited. As a frequent spokesman on behalf of the drug cheats he lacks credibility. It is time he praised clean athletes and stopped casting aspersions on those who have fought against the darker side of sport.’

Conte has made these allegations publicly on previous occasions but has failed to produce any evidence to support his claims. Choosing this moment merely keeps a man hungry for self-promotion in the public eye.

Shamed: Dwain Chambers was supplied by Conte

Shamed: Dwain Chambers was supplied by Conte

Anybody foolish enough to take the drugs that Chambers took would be caught, as he was. Yet Conte claims the drug-testing at the London Games is irrelevant. ‘It is basically propaganda to come out and say, “This is the most expensively tested Games ever and we’re doing 6,000 tests”,’ he said.

‘If you test positive at the Olympics that is more of an IQ test. Athletes won’t do that. You have to put your hook and line in the water when the fish are biting and that was nine months ago. Is it easy to use drug and benefit during Olympics Yes.’

Conte served four months in jail for his leading role in what became known as the BALCO Affair. US federal authorities discovered he was supplying many American track athletes, cyclists and baseball players with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Ultimately it resulted in the suspension not only of Jones and Chambers but of double sprint world champion Kelli White and world 100m record holder Tim Montgomery.

Flexing: Conte with bodybuilder Iris Kyle

Flexing: Conte with bodybuilder Iris Kyle

Conte, who employed chemists to create drugs unknown to testers at the time, did a deal, pleading guilty to a charge of illegal steroid distribution and money laundering to reduce his sentence to four months.

But his associates went to prison for far longer after Montgomery’s coach Trevor Graham blew the whistle on them. Graham’s own involvement was later revealed and he was sentenced to one year of house arrest and banned for life from coaching.

Among the other athletes caught up in the Balco Affair were baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, Olympic cyclist Tammy Thomas and a host of NFL players. Bonds was later convicted of obstruction of justice.

The International Olympic Committee and the London organising committee refused yesterday to make any comment on Conte’s claim, fearing that any denial would lend him credibility.

London 2012 organisers say testing in London is stringent, with the first five to finish in every event having to provide samples, as are two more selected at random. The results of these blood and urine tests will be retained by laboratories for eight years and re-tested if new technology becomes available.

To suggest that 60 per cent of athletes take drugs would suggest that the 64million testing programme organized worldwide by the World Anti-Doping Agency has failed utterly. National and international anti-doping agencies have found no more than two per cent of those tested showing up positive for banned substances.

There is no reason to believe that performances in London have improved. No world records have been broken in track and field, and none of the records thought to have been created in the 1970s and 1980s in the worst era of doping have been challenged.

Nick Harris: Olympic hero who stopped Sir Alex Ferguson from quitting

Olympic hero who stopped Ferguson from quitting

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UPDATED:

00:19 GMT, 8 July 2012

The man who talked Alex Ferguson out
of giving up his football career when he was a disaffected youngster
will be a special guest at one of Great Britain's matches at this
summer's Olympics – thanks to Inside Sport.

As we reported last week, the last
time a British team played at any Games was in 1960 in Rome, and the
surviving members of that 19-man squad will be the VIP guests of the
British Olympic Association for the Wembley game against the United Arab
Emirates on July 29.

Enlarge

Ron McKinven with his old Olympic team badge

Ron McKinven with his old Olympic team badge

One member of that team had not been traced: Ron McKinven, who was an amateur with St Johnstone in Scotland at the time of the Rome Olympics.

But after seeing last weekend's paper, he got in touch and has been reunited with his old Great Britain team-mates.

He has also told me of his role in persuading Fergie to stay in the game as a young man. Without his intervention, it is possible the person widely regarded as Britain's greatest ever manager would have left football for good. 'I was a player at Queen's Park in the late Fifties when I first noticed this young player, sitting on his own, looking a bit lost,' says McKinven, 76, of Ferguson, now 70.

'I took him under my wing, but he was saying he was going to chuck it in because he wasn't getting games. I persuaded him his chance would come.'

McKinven then moved to St Johnstone, and recommended they sign Ferguson. On one famous occasion when Saints were hit by a flu bug and without five first-choice players, McKinven, then the club captain, endorsed Ferguson as a player to fill in.

Ferguson scored a hat-trick that day – against giants Rangers. 'He'd been saying he was going to chuck it in just weeks before that,' McKinven says. 'Then he never looked back.'

McKinven became an interior designer and lost touch with ex-colleagues when he went to work in Qatar as an architect and design consultant. 'I'm looking forward to seeing Team GB,' he says. 'Although I'm not sure of their chances in the tournament.'

Summerbee happy with sub role

Manchester City ambassador Mike Summerbee took the Premier League trophy to a nuclear submarine last week – and will be going back in the autumn to spend two days aboard, under the Atlantic.

This peculiar turn of events unfolded when City heard that John Livesey, commander of HMS Victorious – one of four subs that carry Britain's nuclear arsenal of Trident missiles – is a City fan who was on a three-month patrol when the team won the 2011-12 title on that dramatic last day of the season.

Only brief communiqus are permitted from shore, and when the final whistle was blown on Manchester United's win at Sunderland, Livesey got the message: 'United champions.' After several minutes' despair, in which City scored their pair of history-making late goals against QPR, came a second message: 'City champions.'

There are 10 United fans but only five City fans among the Victorious crew, so it gave Livesey immense pleasure to broadcast across the Tannoy: 'This is your Commander speaking. Manchester City are confirmed as the new champions of the Premier League.'

Summerbee took the trophy by helicopter to Victorious's base on the Clyde. Livesey invited him back for a two-day mission later this year, and Summerbee, 69, accepted.

Security detail

The Army were at Olympic Park in London last week in a two-day 'lockdown' for a 'routine sweep' to make sure security was working properly. Yet it was still possible for me to enter the park via a 'side gate' without an official pass, and walk unaccompanied from one side to the other – to pick up an accreditation. At one point a security guard approached and said walking was prohibited and visitors must use shuttle buses … but he allowed me to carry on anyway. Parts of the area still resemble a building site, but an official said: 'The progress in the past few weeks has been stunning. We'll be ready.'

Second chance

As and when Andy Murray becomes a Grand Slam singles champion, to end almost eight decades of British tennis hurt since Fred Perry triumphed at Wimbledon in 1936, a second autobiography is inevitable – and would open the intriguing possibility of fresh insight into how the Dunblane massacre affected him. He was an eight-year-old pupil at Dunblane Primary School when Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 children and a teacher in the 1996 shooting spree. Murray wrote briefly of it in his 2008 book, 'Hitting Back'. But as potential ghost-writers of that book were told by Murray's agent, Patricio Apey, at the time: 'Andy won't be dealing with Dunblane in any detail. That may or may not come if there is a second book.'

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: Usain Bolt dumps girlfriend to focus on Games

Usain bolts from love: Sprint king dumps girlfriend to focus on Olympics

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UPDATED:

08:39 GMT, 11 May 2012

Usain Bolt has dumped his girlfriend to concentrate on winning gold at the summer Olympics.

The Jamaican sprinted split from fashion designer Lubica Slovak so that she won’t distract him in the build-up to The Games.

News of the split follows a race row in his homeland after the 25-year-old was criticised for going out with a white woman but the relationship was defended by friends close to Bolt who described the couple as being very much in love.

On the run from love: Usain Bolt splits from girlfriend

On the run from love: Usain Bolt splits from girlfriend

But it was reported in Jamaica that the relationship was over after the two had mutually decided to split.

Bolt goes into the London Games looking to defend his 100m and 200m crowns and is also hoping to beat his own world records in both races.

Lubica, 28, emigrated to Canada when she was 14 and studied fashion design in Toronto.

On track for glory: Bolt wins the 100m at the Jamaica International Invitational track and field meet

On track for glory: Bolt wins the 100m at the Jamaica International Invitational track and field meet

She moved to Jamaica after falling in love with it on holiday and was introduced to Bolt last year through a mutual friend, reggae singer Tami Chynn.

They were said to be 'very comfortable together' and to favour quiet dinners over showbiz functions.

But they received a barrage of abuse after a picture of them kissing was published last month.

All over: Bolt and girlfriend Lubica Slovak have split

All over: Bolt and girlfriend Lubica Slovak have split

A source close to Bolt told The Sun: ‘He will have plenty of time for relationships. At the moment he’s concentrating on his running career and doesn’t want anything to distract from that.’

Bolt’s agent Ricky Simms said: ‘We don’t comment on athletes’ private lives.'

London 2012 Olympics: Take That director promises star-studded line-up for closing ceremony

Take That director promises star-studded extravaganza for Olympic closing ceremony

The closing ceremony for the Olympic
Games will be an 'elegant mash-up of British music,' the team planning
the multimillion pound show have revealed.

The sign-off for London 2012 will
tell the history of British culture, including everything from 'Elgar to
Adele' – but organisers stopped short of confirming this week's Brit
Award-winner has been booked to perform.

Star name: Her music will feature but will Adele be there in person

Star name: Her music will feature but will Adele be there in person

A significant portion of the 81m budget for the four ceremonies surrounding the Olympics and Paralympics will be spent on the August 12 spectacular, executive producer Stephen Daldry confirmed.

Artists stepping on stage won't see much of that, however. They will be paid only a nominal fee of 1, it was revealed.

Choreographer and creative director Kim Gavin, the man behind Take That's successful comeback shows, promised an extravaganza involving 'our most globally successful musicians' and future musical talent.

'Music has been Britain's strongest cultural export of the last 50 years and we intend to produce an Olympic closing ceremony that will be a unique promotion of great British popular music,' he said.

'For the closing ceremony, which will be titled A Symphony Of British Music, we will not only be working with our most globally successful musicians, but we also want to use this opportunity to showcase our stars of tomorrow.'

Gavin described it as the 'after-show party' to the main event of sporting competition, adding it would be a 'fabulous emotional experience, something that everyone will remember for years to come.'

Kim Gavin: the man behind Take That's successful comeback show

Kim Gavin: the man behind Take That's successful comeback show

The team, which includes designer Es Devlin, music director David Arnold and lighting designer Patrick Woodroofe, were guarded on most of the detail, saying they wanted to save some surprises for the night.

They promised that, unlike at recent Olympics, many performers would sing live and said elements of protocol set out by the IOC, such as speeches and the handover of flags, would be woven into the entertainment. A segment dedicated to Rio 2016 will be included as well.

Staff will have a race against time to prepare the ceremony – there are just 17 hours from the final athletic event in the 80,000-seater Olympic Stadium ending to the start of the 7.30pm show. Indeed, the presentation of the medals for the men's marathon, which finishes earlier in the day, will need to be fitted in.

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is to record the core orchestral soundtrack for the London 2012 opening and closing ceremonies, it was also announced.

The LSO boasts successful work that spans the high-brow to Hollywood with Twilight: New Moon, and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 & 2) among its recently recorded soundtracks.

Director Stephen Daldry

High hopes: Director Stephen Daldry

On the closing ceremony, Arnold said: 'It encompasses everything, without saying that we've booked anyone, from Elgar to Adele in terms of the journey we take.

'It does have a story and hopefully by the time the fireworks go off at the end you get some idea of what this country is about, not only in the past but where we are now. ' Devlin added: 'It's as if we've been given the keys to all the British art galleries and museums and been allowed in at night to claw our way through all the jewels that have been created.'

No individual acts for closing ceremony have been announced but it is being set up as an action-packed affair featuring more than 4,100 volunteer and youth performers, 250 professionals and a line-up of 'top talent', London 2012 said.

The 4,100 performers will include 3,500 adult volunteers and 380 schoolchildren from the six host boroughs. The 10,500 athletes who have competed at the Games will also be there.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto: Racism is worse in France

Benoit Assou-Ekotto: English football has had its problems with racism but I'd rather be living in London than back home in France

The shop assistant looked up as Benot Assou-Ekotto walked into the television showroom in France. Then, seemingly uninterested in his young, black customer, he turned back to his work.

But Tottenham's French-born Cameroon left-back was in no mood to be ignored.

'So I go to him and I ask, “How much is this TV” And the man didn't even put his head up but just said, “Expensive.”

'I said: “Yeah, but how much” He said, “Yeah, expensive.” I said: “OK, so tell me!” So he stood up and said, “It's about €10,000. Expensive.”

'So I showed him my watch and said, “About the same price as my watch” Then he started to respect me.'

Capital gains: Assou-Ekotto says London is a cool city

Capital gains: Assou-Ekotto says London is a cool city

It is not something you sense Assou-Ekotto would have done unless pushed.

He does not come across as a
footballer given to vulgar displays of wealth or one who would thrust
his designer wristwatch into the face of a stranger to illustrate his
purchasing power.

He is affable in conversation and no
polemicist. But while he was born in France and grew up in Arras, about
60 miles south-east of Calais, he opted to play for Cameroon, the
country of his late father.

And as Assou-Ekotto talks, sitting in a bar beneath his Canary Wharf apartment, he explains why he loves his London life and takes issue with the country of his birth, where he feels his race marks him as an outsider and the kind of person who would not be able even to contemplate paying €10,000 for a television.

Thoughtful and eloquent: Spurs star says racism is worse in France

Thoughtful and eloquent: Spurs star says racism is worse in France

'I think here there are better racial relations than in France,' he says, 'better interaction and better co-existence. For example, in England I see more [black] people with responsibility than in France. Here at Canary Wharf, there are black people and Asian people wearing suits and with good jobs.'

His perception is that the children of migrants to France – his father moved there from Cameroon when he was 16 – are still viewed as outsiders because of the colour of their skin.

'In France, I tell you how it feels,' he says. 'When you have colour, you are [seen as] poor people and a problem. When you are from France, you can be surprised by some things you see in England.'

One example, he agrees, is the racial diversity of those in London with positions of authority. He was taken aback, for example, to see a police officer wearing a turban.

And of the French shop assistant he encountered last summer, he is disdainful.

'This kind of behaviour is not cool,' he says. 'So we start to respect you only because of your money'

Settling in: Manchester City's Sergio Aguero feels the force of Assou-Ekotto's challenge

Settling in: Manchester City's Sergio Aguero feels the force of Assou-Ekotto's challenge

Assou-Ekotto , 27, does not live in a footballer's bubble.

He is often around the Tottenham neighbourhood which experienced rioting last summer – he has his hair braided there – and he is acutely aware of the allegations against Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, banned for eight matches for his racial abuse of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, and Chelsea defender John Terry, who in court next month will deny the claim that he racially abused Anton Ferdinand, of QPR.

But Assou-Ekotto insists that, for a Frenchman with his ethnic background, England is a better place to work and live.

'Yes, I saw your problems in the last few months,' he said.

'When you are in your position in England I can understand that you look at yourself but when you are from France you say, “Ah, England is cooler”. You are more tolerant.'

He seems determined to demolish as many stereotypes as he can in a one-hour conversation.

On the run: Wolves' Michael Kightly can't get past Assou-Ekotto

On the run: Wolves' Michael Kightly can't get past Assou-Ekotto

But while he is self-evidently a thoughtful man, questions are invariably met with a playful grin and when he describes why he changed his tiny Smart Car for the marginally bigger Audi A1 his eyes dance mischievously.

'The Smart Car is in France now because last season I nearly had an accident with Aaron Lennon,' he explains.

'We were about to go to Blackpool and at the last minute, when we were at Stansted Airport, they said the game was cancelled, so the manager said, “OK, you can go back home but be careful” because it was cold and icy.

'So we started to drive, me and Aaron, in the Smart Car on the motorway and we made a spin. Three times we spun round and I was so scared. Aaron was like, “Benoit!! Benoit!!” We stopped and I thought, “Oh cool”. But then, like in the movies, we looked and heard, “Neeeeeeee!” (He mimics the sound of a horn blasting).

Firm favourite: Assou-Ekotto's goal against Everton helped Tottenham scale the dizzy heights of the Premier League

Firm favourite: Assou-Ekotto's goal against Everton helped Tottenham scale the dizzy heights of the Premier League

'And I saw a truck coming towards us. I thought, “Oh ****!” I was very scared and Aaron, too.'

Thankfully, the lorry stopped in time and Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was not left searching for a new full-back and winger.

There was one casualty, however, as Assou- Ekotto admits: 'After that I said, “No more Smart Car in the winter!”'

This winter the more pressing issue is Tottenham's title challenge.

Assou-Ekotto's long-range strike against Everton earlier this month propelled the club into almost unprecedented territory, three points off the lead in January (the last time the club occupied such a position was 1985).

But the draw at home with Wolves last weekend damaged their cause and Sunday's game at top-of-the-table Manchester City will be seen as a genuine test of third-placed Tottenham's credibility, especially as they lost the corresponding fixture at White Hart Lane 5-1.

That was their second Premier League game of the season and it followed a 3-0 defeat at Manchester United.

Assou-Ekotto admits: 'After the City game, I said, “Oh ****. This season can be very difficult if we don't wake up”. We have maybe a few players of experience – maybe William Gallas and Scott Parker – who are not old but experienced. If we had 10 players like that, you wouldn't be worried. But we have players who are young and I thought, “If we don't wake up quickly we will be finished”. But after that we didn't lose for 10 games or something like that [it was 11].'

The victory over Arsenal in October was a turning point.

'There are some teams we should beat, there are others we should beat but it's still hard to do that, and there are one or two teams where you think it's possible but very difficult. But after we won the Arsenal game we believe we can beat anyone.

'There isn't really pressure on us because everyone expects City or United to win the league. Our goal is to make the Champions League, but if the teams above us slip, we won't say No. There are two challenges for us now as players. We can become a part of history and in 100 years they can say, “That was the group of players who qualified for the Champions League”. Or we can be the players who gave Spurs their third ever league title.'

Even when discussing such momentous achievements, Assou- Ekotto maintains his perspective, He is at his most earnest when discussing his support for the United Nations Millennium Campaign to end global poverty by 2015.

No pressure: Assou-Ekotto and Tottenham face a crunch clash with City on Sunday

No pressure: Assou-Ekotto and Tottenham face a crunch clash with City on Sunday

'If my career stopped today and in 50 years someone was to say, “What did you, the person who stopped school at 16 and took a gamble on football, achieve” and all I could say was, “I scored two goals and you can go to YouTube and see them and I made money and I bought my house, maybe even before the teacher who taught me in class,” that would be a sad indictment.'

Instead, he would rather be remembered for supporting a campaign that, among many admirable goals, aims to provide fresh drinking water to every community.

'That makes an unbelievable difference,' he says. 'It is so much more important than the goals I score or any of that nonsense.'

All of which is self-evident; it is just not usually expressed so directly or succinctly by young footballers. Not that Assou-Ekotto is likely to lie awake at night worrying about the reaction.

'I am like this maybe because I feel good in my skin and I don't really need many people. If journalists want to speak about me, it's cool. If they don't want to speak about me, I will do my job on the pitch, go home and sleep very well.

'So maybe that's why I can say what I want. For me, there is no point in speaking just to try to make the people who listen to me happy. If you are happy with what I say, it's good; if not, read another paper.'