Football: Ginola's goals counteract the boredom factor: Adam Sage on how Arsenal's pragmatic opponents aim to blend Brazilian art and English endeavour

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The Independent Online
FRANCE tends to produce teams that thrill the neutral and drive their own supporters to the depths of despair. The typical Gallic outfit will score glorious goals, produce magnificent midfield play and then lose.

The exception to this rule is Paris-St-Germain. Their philosophy this season has been one of of tight defence and of precious little flamboyance. It has served them well, putting them on course for the French championship and two cup finals. Inevitably, it has also attracted criticism.

More used to heroic failures, the French press has found PSG's style difficult to understand and sometimes difficult to stomach. Take last Friday's victory over mid-table Metz, for example, a win that equalled a club record of 26 matches without defeat. PSG scored early and then expended little energy in a match that France's sporting daily L'Equipe described as 'boredom all the way.'

The club's Portuguese trainer, Artur Jorge, views things differently, preferring the word 'realist' to describe his team. PSG have conceded just four goals in 15 games at the Parc des Princes, where they have yet to lose this season, and look certain to win the title.

With a home tie in the quarter- finals of the French Cup next Tuesday, the talk at PSG has been of victory in three competitions, but for that, the team will need to adopt Anglo-Saxon values, according to Jorge. 'It's a question of knowing whether we want to become a great team or not,' he said. 'For that, we have to have a competitive spirit all the time. And perhaps we have to take the English as an example - even when they're tired they continue fighting like madmen.'

It is this 'mental strength' which Jorge most admires in the English game and the issue which has most preoccupied him in the run-up to tonight's match. 'I think that in football, as in rugby, the French have never done too well against the English. It's a problem of confidence. On paper, the French are often better, but on the pitch, the mental qualities of the English make the difference.'

That said, there was not too much disappointment at PSG when the semi-final draw was made. Arsenal were 'respectable' but not intimidating, according to one PSG player, quoted anonymously in the press.

His confidence stems in large measure from the widely held view here that PSG are on the verge of becoming one of Europe's most powerful teams. UEFA Cup semi-finalists last season, the Parisians believe they have the players and, from the subscription television channel, Canal Plus, the financial backing, to challenge for the European Cup next year. They were sponsored to the tune of pounds 29m this year, most of which came from Canal Plus.

Yet for that, much will depend on the form of the Brazilian troika brought to Paris by Jorge. The skilful Valdo in midfield and Ricardo at centre-back have both enjoyed outstanding seasons - indeed Ricardo's partnership with the French international, Alain Roche, has been one of the keys to PSG's success. However, their third and most vaunted Brazilian, Rai, has had a difficult time since his transfer from Sao Paulo last summer and may not even make the bench tonight.

For David Ginola, France's Footballer of the Year and a man said to be on shopping lists in Milan, Turin and Madrid, there are no such problems. If PSG's centre-forward, the Liberian international George Weah, has been a model of inconsistency, Ginola has proved a reliable match-winner, scoring and creating decisive goals throughout the season. Valued in France at pounds 4.5m, the 27-year-old Parisian is reminiscent of John Barnes in his prime, operating wide on the left but capable of floating into the middle at any time.

Just one incident has disturbed his progress. A few days before France's crucial World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in November, Ginola complained about being left out of the team, upsetting his attacking rival, Eric Cantona. After France's elimination, the Manchester United striker described Ginola as a footballing nonentity. Ginola wavered but finally remembered the pragmatic values of his manager and reverted to a diplomatic silence.

(Photograph omitted)

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