Football: The Spur of the moment

'Sometimes people think I am big head, arrogant. It is the contrary of me. I am a simple guy'
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YOU KNEW David Ginola would fit in well at Tottenham Hotspur when he uttered what sounded like criticism of the club's supporters last autumn, just a couple of months after his signing. After all, giving your opponents a goal start has been a Spurs' trademark this season.

All he said, in fact, was that support for the team was understandably muted as the fans had felt so let down for so long. But it did not take White Hart Lane long to warm to the gifted, committed Frenchman, sparing him the barbs aimed at chairman, coaches and team-mates as Spurs have dirtied their feet in the Premiership's relegation mess.

Committed? This dilettante who Kenny Dalglish disposed of after arriving at Newcastle? This pretty-boy star of car and hair ads who stuns such celebrities as Sue Barker but is seemingly mistrusted by the pundit Alan Hansen who points out his defensive deficiencies, viewing him as a luxury, individualistic item no serious side can afford?

No, not that David Ginola but the one who cares deeply about being a model professional rather than a professional model, who insists he believes in the ethos of the team above his own game, accepts that he has had to concentrate more and work harder and who will even, with some justification, explain why being so handsome is sometimes not all that it is cracked up to be.

"They believed in their season and it went bad for them," says Ginola, recalling his comments about the fans. "We have an expression in France - they had nothing under their teeth. It means they were starving. Every game must be a fight for them, too. I just wanted to say to this club, 'I want to be part of you. Be patient.' I don't want to blame. I understand. This club has a history.

"If you don't care about the club and are going to go somewhere else in the next season it is no problem for you but I didn't come here to be in this position," he adds of Spurs' plight, which they seek to ease this afternoon at home to fellow toilers Bolton Wanderers. "When I signed for Tottenham it was a surprise for some people and I realise now why they said that but I signed for four years. I want to stay my four years and stay in the Premiership."

But at least he is doing his bit for industry in a side lacking confidence and managing to contribute goals in the style to which previous Tottenham generations had been accustomed. "If we go down and I play well, it means nothing. When I go somewhere in London people say to me, 'Spurs, paah. But David you are playing well.' I am more concerned with the team. I want people to say to me, 'Oh David, Spurs are a good team now.'"

It is generally assumed that the St Tropez golden boy's career has been all wine and roses but, as with everything about him, close examination reveals a different picture; how much adversity he has had to endure. As a 21-year-old, for example, he was relegated with Matra Racing before going on to glory with Paris St Germain and becoming French Player of the Year. This amid a declining international career.

Then there have been the last 15 months, which have seen him serve four coaches in Kevin Keegan, Dalglish, Gerry Francis and Christian Gross. "Life and football are bizarre," is his summary of it all.

"So sad for everybody, Kevin first," says Ginola of his first season in England with Newcastle when they squandered a 12-point lead to Manchester United. "Sometimes when you have a moment like that it is not sure it will come again. It runs away." There seems no bitterness that Keegan would not let him go to Barcelona when Bobby Robson tried to sign him.

Ginola quickly sensed he would not be Dalglish's tasse de the. "You know sometimes people make you feel good and sometimes people don't really care about you. It is not just football, it is life. When you meet someone and don't share the same feelings, you say 'OK,bye, thanks'. I just wish good luck for Newcastle because I really like this club. I have great moments."

The pounds 2.5m looked a panic buy when Francis rescued him last summer, an against-his-better- judgement attempt to bring some of the missing panache for which the then coach was being criticised. Early evidence suggested a misguided move. "We always seemed to be chasing after losing to Manchester United in the first game," says Ginola. "Then you try too hard and everybody starts to look at each other and ask 'Is it your fault? Is it my fault?' " In the inquisition, Francis lost his head. Enter Gross.

"Since I arrive in England it is the first time I feel very tired after training," says Ginola, sinking into the leather seating as we talk in his car - and yes he does drive one of those he advertises. "We train very hard, in all the different ways tactically, physically. It is a very consistent session. Like this morning, we play 11 against 11 so you have to work like you do in a game. And when he says it is 20 minutes, it is never 20 minutes, it is always more."

It is the nearest Ginola comes even to hinting that there may be something in reports about players' criticism of Gross's training methods. Neither does it appear at the moment that the players want the Swiss coach out. "I think everybody is going the same way," he insists.

In Paris, Ginola played mostly as the free striker off George Weah, while at Newcastle he was the left-wing supplier for Les Ferdinand. Ginola says that before fate intervened, Keegan intended to use him in midfield, where he will find himself today as Tottenham's playmaker. "I like to have the game in front of me," he says. "In the middle I have got the game all round and it is more interesting." He accepts that he needs workers around him, though. "I like these players. When Eric Cantona called Didier Deschamps a water carrier it was not pejoratif. You need them. This is the most important battle in the game. You win this, you win the game." Despite some fans' perception of him as a "diver", professionals actually speak of his bravery on the field.

A personal preference is to see Ginola playing further forward around a target man because of his eye for goal, a touch in crowded areas surprising for a big man and his rare appreciation of angles. There his display against Blackburn recently was decisive and his work a reminder of what Francis, who had said that Ginola's main problem was switching off for several seconds after losing possession, had worked on with him. "Gerry was right. It's true. In England the game is very quick and if the ball goes and you miss it for two seconds it can be at the other end of the pitch. It is not like this in France. So you have to think more quickly, run backwards and think afterwards."

Sadly, no matter where or how well he plays it seems unlikely that the French coach Aime Jacquet will pick him for the World Cup finals. "I don't want to think that, but one part of my head says 'Yes, it is over.' Another says, 'Come on, still believe because you are a good player. You deserve to play.'"

The agenda dates back to 1993 when he gave away French possession 30 seconds from the United States finals; Bulgaria went downfield to score and qualify instead. Jacquet was then assistant coach to Gerard Houllier, now technical director of the French game, who described poor, scapegoat Ginola's action as "criminal", even though others had also erred. "It is more the entourage around Jacquet, who don't want to see me," says Ginola.

He will, though, be appearing on television and a deal for both French and English TV is in the offing. "We have to think of the ladies too," said one French producer. Which brings us to that subject. It is surprising we made it this far. Even this envious Englishman can see in his green eyes what women mean when they describe him as drop-dead gorgeous.

But does it detract from his credibility as a player, can it be a burden? "I thank my parents, thank God. I am happy to be like that. But I get the work because I am a good player. And sometimes people think I am big head, arrogant. It is the contrary of me. I am a simple guy. I like talking to people. I am kind and gentle to everyone. I never refuse anything.

"But people think when you are good looking, if you have a gift from life, it is enough and you don't need anything. It is true I don't need anything material but people are not indulgent with me. There are so many problems in the world now. When they see people who are not good looking, they say 'Shame, we have to like them, to look after them.' I need affection, understanding, forgiveness, all the same things. But I have always to do things well. If I don't, I'm ... screwed."

He laughs, but he has a point; more does seem to be expected of such a blessed figure. Certainly, Tottenham, who need to follow more consistently the man with a head start in life who caught up after falling behind, will be expecting today.

The Ginola debate: Different perceptions of a French enigma

Desmond Lynam: What about your favourite player today?

Alan Hansen: He would be on my team every time. I know he wouldn't be on yours but he would be on mine. When we run this, this is what you'll love about him, watch this. This is what you'll love about David Ginola...very competitive and a big heart. That's why he'd be in your team - look at that for a tackle. Watch that fantastic or what?

Lynam: The man's a genius.

Hansen: The man is a genius. We are going to give him all the accolades in the world.

Lynam: I'm having lunch with him this week and he is definitely paying after this.

Match of the Day, 7 January 1998.

Ginola belongs to the past. Aime Jacquet, French national coach, May 1996.

In terms of his public image in France, he is still recovering from that Bulgaria match. Also, because he has a beautiful face, and because he is on television in fashion shows and advertisements, he is seen more as a pop-star figure - like someone out of Take That - than a footballer. Jean-Philippe Le Claire of L'Equipe.

You haven't seen anybody in English football like David Ginola. He goes past good players. He's like a firework: you light the touch-paper and then you step back.

Kevin Keegan, Newcastle manager, August 1995.

I wanted him but his wage demands meant I never even bothered in the end. Look at the star he is now - he must be on some salary at Newcastle. George Graham.

He sometimes has three or four men around him trying to get at him. Sometimes he has to fall the way he does to avoid having his leg broken. I believe he has handled himself very well. Keegan, responding to accusations of diving.

Ginola has a lot to learn about the style of English football. He gets frustrated if he doesn't get enough of the ball and you mark him tight. He has to learn to cope with that. Lee Dixon of Arsenal.

His skills are as good as Cantona's but he seems to have a much sounder temperament. He's totally opposite to Cantona and the image of the volatile Frenchman. We've never seen him lose his temper. Robert Lee of Newcastle and England.

David, likeable, ordinary guy, became Ginola, badly advised icon of football business preoccupied by his own image. Result: his career is on the decline and he's running away from reality. France Football magazine, January 1998.

We're trying to impress upon David that he's got to be more involved in things generally. This means tackling back, helping out defensively and being available as often as possible. Gerry Francis, September 1997.

I like individual players such as Ginola but I cannot build a team around one player and I will not. It is very important that he has the right attitude and works for the side. He has to make sure the team improve, not just himself. Christian Gross, November 1997.

Compiled by Duncan Lennard