Football: Ginola shoots from the hip

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The Independent Online
David Ginola carried a rifle through jungle territory for three weeks of his National Service in the French Army. Judging by his remarks when he returned home as a Foreign Legionnaire with the Toon Army yesterday, it seems he may not have learned to fire it - not straight, at least.

The man French football held responsible for its failure to qualify for the last World Cup finals spoke with hope of being granted an opportunity to fly the tricolore on his home soil the summer after next. In doing so, however, the winger from St Tropez who plies his trade at St James's appeared to shoot himself - or, more specifically, his lingering international ambitions - in the foot.

No matter how dazzlingly Ginola performs for Newcastle United in the opening leg of their Uefa Cup third round tie in Metz tonight, Aime Jacquet's view will no doubt be shaded by the prodigal son's typically frank address on the state of the nation's team.

The public protestations Ginola has made since his last appearance for France, two years ago, is one reason Jacquet has chosen to keep him in exile. And the national coach will not take kindly to being told that the team he has fashioned in his own image has become a turn-off for the French.

Reflecting on the 1-0 defeat against Denmark 10 days ago, Ginola said: "People in France are upset because the team is too defensive. The man who sits on his sofa to watch the game needs to see something special. After 10 minutes he is turning to another channel to watch Baywatch or something."

Ginola turned on the television set at his Paris flat one November morning three years ago to see Gerard Houllier, Jacquet's predecessor as national coach and now director of the French football federation, label him "a criminal" for his part in France's fall at the final World Cup qualifying hurdle the previous night, when Bulgaria scored from the possession he conceded to them in the final minute.

The fact that both legs of Newcastle's tie against the French League Cup holders will be screened live in Ginola's homeland will, as Kevin Keegan put it yesterday, "give David a great chance to press his claims." Ginola, however, may not have advanced his cause by declaring: "I'm English now," even if it was made to explain why he will be treated as an enemy by the French crowd tonight.

The pressure will be on him tonight, not just because of his coming home, for his first club match since his pounds 2.5m move from Paris St Germain in June last year. The Metz team Newcastle face includes Robert Pires, the player Jacquet has groomed as understudy to Reynauld Pedros, who ousted Ginola from the French side.

Given the attacking threat likely to be posed by the 23-year-old, Keegan is likely to revert to a four-man defensive formation, which would mean a return at right-back for Steve Watson. In attack, the Newcastle manager seems more inclined to turn to Paul Kitson rather than Alan Shearer as replacement for the injured Les Ferdinand.

Though Shearer trained with the squad at the Stade Saint-Symphorian last night, Keegan maintained he would not risk his pounds 15m investment.

Further proof of Shearer's improving fitness in training this morning, however, may yet persuade Keegan to keep a seat warm on the substitutes' bench for one member of his squad who knows how to shoot straight.