Matchwinner expected to be banned

RAFAEL Benitez may have focused his wrath on the match officials on Sunday, but the Spaniard overlooked a far more pertinent gripe – Tottenham's matchwinner arguably should have been sitting in the stands...

By Ben Pearce

RAFAEL Benitez may have focused his wrath on the match officials on Sunday, but the Spaniard overlooked a far more pertinent gripe - Tottenham's matchwinner arguably should have been sitting in the stands.

Lest everyone forgets, Sebastien Bassong received a two-match ban at Newcastle last season, and effectively only served one of them before sinking Liverpool in his second competitive match since the dismissal.

Strangely the FA ruled that, as the Cameroon international served his first suspension for the Magpies on the final day of the last campaign, his second ban was completed when the Toon kicked off their Championship season on Saturday August 8 - even though Bassong had already signed for Spurs.

This time last week it seemed little more than a curious loophole. Now that bizarre ruling has produced three points for Spurs, and the man in question admits he expected to miss his dream debut when he agreed to join the Lilywhites.

"I found out I was eligible just a few hours after I signed my contract," Bassong told Ham&High Sport. "Honestly I just wanted to sign, and then it was good news for me that I could play."

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At least, the 23-year-old claims it was good news. Privately, Spurs' new centre-back may have been hoping for a distant viewing spot after Liverpool beat the Magpies 5-1 and 3-0 last season.

The �8million man missed the humiliating four-goal thumping at St James' Park, but was involved when Benitez's boys completed the double at Anfield in May - "Torres wasn't playing that day," Bassong smiled. "He was injured, I was quite sad."

Three months later, Bassong is basking in the afterglow of victory over last season's runners-up, with the difference from last season thoroughly vindicating his decision to quit St James' Park.

"When we were relegated I was so sad, like everybody," said Bassong. "To be relegated is not a good thing for your career, but then when I went away with the national team I thought to myself 'I can't stay at Newcastle any more, because it's going to be a step back for my career. I'm still young, I have to look forward'. That's what I say to everyone at Newcastle.

"Relegation hasn't affected my confidence, because for myself I felt I had a good season. There was other interest in me but when I knew the interest of Tottenham my choice was made.

"I think Tottenham have the players and squad to finish in the top half, maybe sixth and we can fight to have a good season. I can't say first, fourth, fifth but I think we're going to do good things this year."

Harry Redknapp insists he would have lured Bassong from Newcastle even if all of his defenders had been fit for the start of the season, but injuries to Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson forced the manager's hand.

Tottenham's new signing will be needed alongside Ledley King again on Sunday, but he is aware that Woodgate, Dawson and possibly even Vedran Corluka will be vying for his place before long.

"We have really really good centre-backs, I don't think a lot of teams have a lot of good centre-backs like that and that's going to be good for the team," said Bassong.

"It's good to have a lot of players. The competition is good for the team for the season, so you have to work hard to be on the pitch.

"If I wasn't playing I would still be happy, because I knew before I signed that when everyone is fit it's going to be a tough fight on the pitch and in training. And that's what I like, I don't like the easy thing. I prefer to win my fight when there are a lot of players there. If I have to play I will be very happy. If I have to wait I will work harder and harder."

Bassong is likely to be reunited with King again at Upton Park but, with his team-mate's injury seriously limiting practice time in training, Bassong admits the partnership is effectively developing in the heat of battle.

"We are all professionals, so if he doesn't train a lot I just have to be cleverer and more focused on the pitch when I'm playing with him," said Bassong.

"Everybody knows Ledley King because he's a great player. I saw him play a lot of times on TV and it's going to be good. It would be better to train regularly but if it's not like that we will have to do it another way. He's a really, really great player, world-class I think, and I'm watching him all the time.

"That was an important part of me coming to Tottenham because I'm still a young player, and to learn with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, and Dawson, it's a good thing for me.