A talent crying out for protection

Ian Ridley says David Ginola is a suitable case for fairer treatment
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The Independent Online
DAVID GINOLA departed the scene apparently banging the walls of the Highbury tunnel and shouting: "They won't let me play football." In the dressing-room later, he told Kevin Keegan that he did not believe he belonged in the English game.

The Newcastle manager hoped it was only a moment of frustration, after the Frenchman's moment of madness in elbowing Arsenal's Lee Dixon. What is it about Frenchmen in January?

Pleadingly, Keegan tried to console and reassure him. Later he voiced his fear of losing the player, of having to talk him around, of the parallel with Eric Cantona in attitudes towards them.

In the aftermath of the Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final in midweek, two thoughts went through the mind of this observer: who could blame Ginola if he did seek more sympathetic climes? And, do we not want this type of player in our game?

All evening, Ginola was baited by a Highbury crowd not best disposed to him after his performance for Paris St Germain against Arsenal in a European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final against them two years ago - though they would undoubtedly have changed with the wind had George Graham brought himself to sign him, as he indicated he would. Worse, Ginola was subjected to systematic physical abuse by an Arsenal defence unpunished by a referee who ill- perceived his duty.

First Dixon's lunge and comparatively minor though irritating shirt-tugging, then Ginola's booking for supposedly "diving" when clearly Nigel Winterburn had fouled him. There is here a ridiculous Englishness: take your beating without bleating; stiffen the lip instead of curling it as a show of emotion. Ginola's body language may indeed have been too theatrical at times, as Keegan has told him, notably after a previous round at Liverpool, but that is no reason to vilify as he seeks to adapt.

For Ginola was schooled in a footballing culture where sometimes a forward has to fall to get his deserts. Even goody two-boots Gary Lineker has talked of how to convince a referee you have been fouled. Besides, in all the talk last season of Jurgen Klinsmann's Cousteau tendency, it was overlooked that some of the best in the business have been English. Trevor Francis developed a pike with two and a half twists.

There is also the question of falling to avoid potential injury. Diego Maradona was perceived as a diver but is still playing in his mid-thirties; Marco van Basten was not and was forced into premature retirement before his 30th birthday.

That said, there are circumstances where a defensive elbow might just be tolerable on a football field but this was not one of them. Mistreated as he was, Ginola's response was unacceptable, as was Cantona's more serious reaction 50 weeks earlier. His punishment will be a three-match ban and he is one yellow card away from a further two-match absence, which would clear his diary for February.

He might find comfort in the adage that only the best players are worth jeering. In a game that thrives on passion, it is also said, you can't expect people not to vent their feelings or seek to undermine the other team's star players. Perhaps, but obscene gestures, filthy language and confrontational faces are a sad reflection of some of the game's audience. What happened to respect for talent? For people?

Last Wednesday's referee, Gerald Ashby, appeared to have little. He was fortunate that the touchline altercation between the Arsenal manager, Bruce Rioch, and Newcastle's assistant, Terry McDermott, provoked by his decisions and being investigated by the FA, stifled analysis of his deficient performance.

This from a correspondent usually uncritical of referees except when they have lost the courage - as several have lately, notably over the tackle from behind - to implement the Fifa guidelines on stricter application of the laws, designed to benefit forwards.

One hopes that Peter Jones will show both courage and respect for talent when he referees Coventry City's Premiership match against Newcastle this afternoon; not giving Ginola special but merely fair treatment. Highfield Road too. Call me old-fashioned, but surely there is some fair play left in this land? We do not have enough talent that we can afford to kick it out.