x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bassong keeping his eyes on the main prize

The Tottenham defender, a shrewd signing from Newcastle, has become mainstay of defence and enjoys playing in Champions League.

Tottenham’s Sebastien Bassong, right, outmuscles Fulham’s Moussa Dembele to the ball.
Tottenham’s Sebastien Bassong, right, outmuscles Fulham’s Moussa Dembele to the ball.

For Sebastien Bassong, today's archetypal Premier League encounter with Everton is of far more importance than last Wednesday's glamorous encounter with Inter Milan, or indeed the prospect of Tottenham Hotspur taking on the Italian aristocrats again at White Hart Lane a week on Wednesday.

It might sound a bit downbeat, but the 24-year-old defender's assessment of Tottenham's priorities are pragmatic.

There will be little point in Spurs going on a high-octane ride in the Champions League but then falling off the roller coaster and seeing their bid to qualify again for Europe's premier club derailed. After losing to Wigan Athletic just days after thrashing Young Boys, from Switzerland, in August, Spurs cannot afford another hangover after a heady European night.

"It is wonderful for us to be involved in special games against a team like Inter, who having won the Champions League and the Italian title, must be regarded as one of the best - if not the best - team in Europe if not the world right now," said Bassong, who played in the 4-3 defeat to Inter at the San Siro on Wednesday night. "That is all part of what qualifying for the Champions League was about in the first place."

But the main goal for Spurs this season, he said, is to again finish in the top four in the Premier League.

"It was a great achievement to do that last season and it is where we want to be again this season," he said. "That is what gets you into the Champions League after. The Champions League is a fantastic experience for everyone - the players, the fans, everyone around the club.

"But we mustn't forget the main thing is to finish [in the top four]. That is the main target because you start to establish yourself as a big club on a regular basis."

Spurs clinched a place in Europe's top competition for the first time in 48 years by beating Manchester City in their penultimate league game last season.

But Manchester City's rapid improvement means the challenge for Spurs to repeat that feat could be a tougher assignment, especially with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United also battling to secure top-four positions.

"Last year it was very tough to make the top four but we did it. This year though it may be even tougher," Bassong said. "After our next game against Inter we will be able to see where we are in terms of Europe.

"Hopefully we can qualify for the knockout games. Then anything can happen I suppose. But we are not thinking about winning the Champions League to be honest. We are just thinking about each game when it comes along, enjoying it and learning.

"It is hard when it is your first season in this competition. There has to be a big adjustment and it's true that so far we have suffered a bit in [Premier League] games that have come straight after. As players we have to learn to adjust. This is what we must do."

Bassong will play a crucial part in that process. With Ledley King's knees continuing to deteriorate, Jonathan Woodgate no nearer a comeback, Michael Dawson out with an injury and William Gallas displaying the erratic form that deemed him surplus to requirements at Chelsea and then Arsenal, Bassong has emerged as the mainstay of the Tottenham defence.

The £8 million (Dh46m) Tottenham paid Newcastle for his services at the start of last season has turned out to be one of their shrewder pieces of business. Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, knew Bassong had pedigree. The 24-year-old was a graduate of the Clarefontaine Academy in France - a finishing school for young players who live in and around Paris, to hone their talents between the ages of 13 and 16 - and then was immediately signed by Metz where he made 79 appearances.

"It [Clarefontaine Academy] is a very good place to help you improve as a players before moving onto the Academy of as professional club," Bassong said.

Born in Paris and having represented the France Under 21 team, Bassong was expected to graduate to the national team. However, he chose to represent Cameroon.

"I grew up in the north of Paris only 10 minutes from the Stade de France and when I left the house I had a French education and being part of the Clarefontaine I just progressed into the France under 21 team," Bassong said.

"But both my parents came from Cameroon and when I was indoors they made sure they gave me a Cameroonian education. I learned a lot about the culture and history of the country.

"So when it was hard to break into the France senior team and I had the opportunity to play for the Cameroon, I made a decision with heart."

Earlier in the week Bassong offered his time to join one of Tottenham's community projects, helping with the education of local school children.

He has clearly integrated himself into life in England, having spent a year in the north-east with Newcastle and now 15 months in London with Spurs.

"Some foreign players might find coming to England a bit of a culture shock but not me," Bassong said. "In fact I found Newcastle very similar to Metz in many ways. A small city where everything is close. The only thing that surprised me was how big the link was between the fans and the club.

"As for London, well, as a Parisian I find many things similar ... but not the traffic. I do like visiting the middle of the city but sometimes it's just impossible so I shut myself away at home with my family. That way I can relax. I hate the traffic."

sports@thenational.ae