The shop assistant looked up as Benoît 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.’
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.
‘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?’
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