Football: Graham's challenge lifts Ginola

DAVID GINOLA, the artist who has been labelled the best footballer in the world by Dutch master Johan Cruyff, knows the day may never dawn when he earns anything like such a glowing reference from George Graham.

But the pin-up boy of White Hart Lane willingly accepts the challenge that is continually being presented to him by Tottenham's demanding manager and it is why, even at 32, he still has a voracious hunger to live up to Cruyff's claim.

The flying Frenchman was again the familiar toast of Spurs fans after Tuesday's 3-0 win over dismal Southampton in which he expertly crafted two spectacular goals for strikers Chris Armstrong and Steffen Iversen and then, in the last 20 minutes of a one-sided match, toyed mercilessly with the collapsing opposition.

But although Graham acknowledged Ginola's undoubted genius, the Scottish taskmaster who makes pragmatism seem like an art form was still quick to pick out the flaw in his game.

"He should be scoring more goals from his side of the pitch," said Graham, "We need him to be getting into the penalty area more, where he should be knocking in more tap-ins.

"That's why I brought on Jose Dominguez as substitute for him in the last few minutes," grinned Graham. "He did exactly that - and scored with his first touch." Considering that Graham admits he would sell Dominguez tomorrow if the right offer came along, it is no wonder the manager's comments provoked a gale of laughter.

And Ginola saw the funny side of it, too. He said: "I'm very happy because I made two goals and, really, the third one as well because it was me who went off to let Jose come on."

But Ginola was deadly serious when he admitted: "We can never be satisfied with how we play. The manager just wants us to get better and better all the time. It was very nice to get that tribute from Johan Cruyff. He was my hero when he played and it is true he tried to sign me for Barcelona when I was with Paris St-Germain.

"But George Graham is the manager I play for now and he is such a manager that he makes you want to please him by improving with every game."

So who deserved the credit for the opening goal against Southampton, scored by Armstrong and set up by Ginola with a superbly disguised free- kick reminiscent of the Argentinian effort against England involving Ariel Ortega and Javier Zanetti in the World Cup last summer?

"George Graham, of course," said Ginola. "We worked on it time and again in training and George so badly wanted it to work. I watched it in the Argentina-England game but it was George's idea to try it and that's why I ran over to him after Chris scored.

"We were all delighted but maybe it is the kind of thing you can use only once. And with the free-kick you have to give the ball with just the right pace.

"Chris said afterwards it was easier scoring it in the match than it had been in training. And when we watched it on television after the game with a glass of champagne it certainly looked like he was right."

Cynics still believe the unlikely pairing of Graham and Ginola will one day end in tears. But there is a fierce determination by the Frenchman to keep his manager satisfied and he is doing that with the growing number of goals he is creating with early crosses.

But Ginola has yet to score in the Premiership this season - his only two goals this term coming in the Worthington Cup and the FA Cup - and that statistic mirrors Spurs' immediate ambitions.

Victory on Tuesday lifted them to 10th in the League and ended a frustrating series of six consecutive League draws. But with a Wembley place already booked in the Worthington Cup final in three weeks, another route to the twin towers beckons on Saturday in the FA Cup quarter-final at First Division Barnsley.

Spurs were knocked out in the fourth round at Oakwell last year but relegated Barnsley should present few problems now and Ginola said: "If we play as we have been playing recently I am sure we can go through. At least we are winning again now instead of drawing."

Striker Les Ferdinand would dearly love a shot at revenge after being sent off at Barnsley last year, but the England international, who had to miss Tuesday's game while still fully recovering from concussive blows to the head which forced early retirement in his previous two games, may have to settle for a substitute role.

Armstrong was back on target, and back in form, against Southampton having failed to score since his hat-trick against Everton in December while Iversen's goal was saluted by Graham as just reward for an impressive display by the young Norwegian who has underachieved in recent outings.

Iversen, who missed much of last season with a knee injury and then broke his jaw against Liverpool in December, said: "Up to now I've not been at my best because I've still been a little nervous because of the injuries I've had in the past, but I'm beginning to feel much more relaxed and it is all down to George Graham. He makes us all feel so much more confident and when we play like this everybody lightens up. Now I'm totally satisfied with my entire situation here."

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