Bassong gears up for biggest months of his life

SEBASTIEN Bassong admits that he is entering the most important five months of his life so far, as he targets a Champions League spot and a place at this summer's World Cup. The Cameroon international is well aware of the expectation around...

By Ben Pearce

SEBASTIEN Bassong admits that he is entering the most important five months of his life so far, as he targets a Champions League spot and a place at this summer's World Cup.

The Cameroon international is well aware of the expectation around White Hart Lane, as Tottenham bid to qualify for Europe's elite domestic competition for the very first time.

However, the 23-year-old has felt the weight of history on his shoulder before - just one year ago, in fact, as he fruitlessly fought relegation with Newcastle, whose demise sent shockwaves across the country.

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It has been a remarkable turnaround for the centre-back, and the contrast is not lost on him.

"If we finish in the top four and I go to the World Cup it will be a great year for me. Last year I was fighting for relegation and this year I'm fighting for the Champions League and might go to the World Cup," said Bassong. "It could be a great year for me and if I can do those things, it will be the best time in my life in football for sure.

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"The pressure was different at Newcastle. When you are fighting against relegation it is a bad pressure. Now it's a good pressure," said Bassong. "We're fourth in the table and fighting for the Champions League. Every morning you're happy to go to training and you want to succeed.

"You're working well because you're in a good mood to work. It's not like when I was at Newcastle. I was going to training wondering what is going to happen at the weekend or who is struggling. I had four managers in a year, it was a bit shocking. Each manager has his own way to train the team and manage, so it was a bit strange for me and all the team. Now it is okay."

When Bassong arrived at Tottenham in August, few could have foretold that he would become such an influential figure this season.

The ex-Magpies defender was an unplanned necessity in the summer transfer window, enforced by injuries to Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson, on top of Ledley King's ongoing knee problem.

Having played just one season in England's top flight, Bassong was clearly a back-up, the fourth choice and one for the future.

Thirty appearances later, he is Spurs' most capped centre-back this season, playing almost twice as many games as King and two more than Dawson.

Bassong's opening-day debut winner against Liverpool is still relevant with 10 games to go in the race for the top four.

And, as Spurs look ahead to meetings with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea in April, Spurs' �8million man still feels that the key to the season will be their clashes with the Big Four sides.

"We need to win this type of game. If we want to finish in the top four we have to beat Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool," he said. "If we can beat them, it will be a big step towards that Champions League, but if we can't take points off them we don't deserve to be in the top four because then we're not at their level. We'll see in April.

"If we finish in the top four it will be a great achievement because the club has not been in the Champions League. It will be a great thing and a start for the future at the club.

"Honestly, we can make it. We started the season well and I don't think people expected that from us. Now, I think we have shown we have the ability to do it."

A strong end to the season will also boost Bassong's chances of appearing at the World Cup with Cameroon, who will face Japan, Denmark and then Holland in Group E.

Bassong was surprisingly omitted from the squad that contested the African Cup of Nations in January, but was recalled ahead of last night's friendly with Italy in Monaco.

"Of course, it hurt that I didn't go to the African Nations Cup," he said. "The manager, Paul le Guen, took his decision. He had his own reasons that he explained to me.

"If I went to the African Nations Cup I wouldn't be playing so he thought it was better for me to stay at Tottenham to compete for my place here and help them stay in the top four. It was maybe the best thing for the club but not for Cameroon.

"They didn't play well in the African Nations Cup, so it was a bit of a mess in our country. Even if I'm not playing for my country and I'm a substitute, I still want to be involved. It wasn't up to me so it was okay.

"We have to take revenge from the African Nations Cup. It will be different but I think we can go through the first round if we start the competition well against Japan. That would bring us confidence and we would see what would happen after that.

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