“France has, at its heart, a problem where it has been unable or unwilling to accommodate the sons and daughters of its former colonies, even though France benefited and enriched itself greatly from the relationship. That’s hard to accept and it’s what sits at the base of what is dysfunctional in France,” he added.
Assou-Ekotto and Bassong speak of multicultural England in slightly reverential tones, their stories taking in the Sikh policeman in his turban, the drive-thru McDonald’s girl in her burqa and the bank employee with his tattoos.
“I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t more difficult in France than it is in England to find work if you have a big beard, for example,” Bassong said. “That’s just a fact. In England, it’s more open and that’s why people come here, because they know that they will get a chance, no matter how they dress or where they are from.”
“In England, minds are more open. That’s why French players who play in England don’t want to go back to France. The way that English people think ... they don’t judge you for anything. When you go into a bank, you can see someone who is working with a tattoo. You can’t see that in France. French society still has to work with its approach to foreign people,” Bassong said.
Assou-Ekotto was born in Arras to a French mother and a Cameroonian father. To him, it was never a consideration to pursue an international career with Les Bleus (the French national team). The cynics might say that it was because he was not good enough, but Assou-Ekotto had turned down the chance to train in the France youth set-up at the age of 14.
It was the same year that France’s “Black-Blanc-Beur” (Black-White-Arab) team, the supposed model of integration, won the World Cup.
“Even at that age, it wasn’t something that represented anything to me as an individual,” Assou-Ekotto said. “I’d already decided that I didn’t have a bond with this nation.”