Forget Will and Gareth, Everton yesterday acclaimed their very own Pop Idol. David Ginola strolled into the unglamorous surroundings of the club's training ground at Bellfield and confessed himself utterly committed to the cause of Les Bleus. Opposite Goodison Park, the club shop were already doing a roaring trade in shirt sales. They had been since the news of the Frenchman's stunning transfer to Merseyside had been announced the previous afternoon. First Paul Gascoigne, now David Ginola. Bill Kenwright, the amiable Everton chairman, is assembling a cabaret act as much as a football team.
Ginola was typically eloquent at his unveiling, venting a trademark volley of frustration at the management at Aston Villa, for whom he started a mere 19 games in two wretched years. "I felt humiliated at Villa," he said. "I think they destroyed my name, they destroyed the image I tried to build in England. It was only a couple of people, but sometimes that is enough when you've got the power. At least I can walk away knowing I conducted myself in the right way.
"I was there every day at training, I never turned up late, I always smiled in the dressing room and I always did the job I was asked to do. I wanted to respond to criticism in the right way, not in the newspapers. I didn't want to play their game and I always wanted to set an example to the young lads. Most of them came to me with tears in their eyes because they didn't understand what was going on."
The deal, initially on a three-month contract worth £25,000 a week, bore the thumbprint of the London-based impresario, but no less of Walter Smith, a manager renowned for his ability to extend the most emphatic of sell-by dates. Paul Gascoigne has flourished under the Scotsman's benevolent guidance since his arrival from Middlesbrough and is now, at 34, central to Everton's survival in the Premiership. A scary thought. But there will be those who regard the recruitment of the mercurial Frenchman to a relegation battle as the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with six bullets.
Gazza and Gina in the same team? "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre" as Maréchal Bosquet, the French military commander, said of the Charge of the Light Brigade. But, if the gamble fails, it might be tally-ho all the way to the Nationwide.
"I nearly crashed my car when I heard the news," said Duncan McKenzie, one of Everton's great entertainers of the past. "That's fantastic, that will bring the whole place a real boost. Walter's a shrewd man. He's given Ginola three months to prove what sort of a footballer and what sort of an athlete he is. Ginola will be dying to prove people wrong. But it's not the conventional way out of trouble, is it?"
The arrival of the elegantly maned Ginola and the bald Lee Carsley, bought from Coventry for £1.9m, reflects conflicting traditions at Goodison. The club has never quite worked out whether its heritage belongs to the silky skills of artists like McKenzie or to the artisans of Joe Royle's Dogs of War midfield. Smith has clearly opted to straddle the divide, bringing in Carsley as a cog to Ginola's freewheeling. McKenzie believes Ginola will shadow Jesper Blomqvist on the left. He is likely to make his debut off the bench against Arsenal at Goodison Park this afternoon.
"It's a psychologically ideal moment to be bringing in a player like that," said McKenzie. "It will give the dressing room a lift because, whatever you think about him, Ginola is a star. They've got Arsenal, Liverpool and Leeds next, so they'll need all the help they can get."
Smith will be hoping that, like Gascoigne, the 35-year-old Ginola will enjoy a new lease of life at Goodison Park. Gascoigne's level of fitness has rarely been higher, witness his locomotive performance recently against Sunderland. "I am looking forward to playing with someone as talented as Gazza and Walter Smith is a big reason for coming here too," said the Frenchman. "When someone really wants you again, it's fantastic. I woke up this morning and it was like waking up from a nightmare."
Gascoigne's appearance at training yesterday dressed in a long grey wig suggested different nightmares. Unlike Gazza, Ginola has never been prone to bouts of hyperactivity. The list of managers driven loco by the langourous Frenchman begins with Kevin Keegan – the original sponsor – and includes Kenny Dalglish, George Graham and John Gregory. Keegan put Ginola in his all-time top 10, alongside Johan Cruyff. The more functional Gregory was threatened with court action for once suggesting that Ginola was carrying a "bit of timber".
Ginola has not started a Premiership game this season and the fractious relationship with the manager was formally broken when Ginola was sent off for hacking at Dennis Wise, swore at the fourth official and received a six-match ban, which merely confirmed his permanent place on the sidelines. In the meantime, Villa bored everyone to tears in front of dwindling crowds. By the time Graham Taylor was restored to the hotseat – tantalisingly suggesting that under his stewardship Ginola would have been fined for retreating into his own half – the damage was irredeemable.
At his best, Ginola is the single most exciting footballer to grace the Premiership. It seems longer than three years ago that he received those Player of the Year awards from the football writers and, more significantly, his own Professional Footballers' Association. Even at his most mediocre, the Frenchman rarely left a crowd's expectations entirely unfulfilled. He was adored at St James' Park, the symbol of the Toon's new designer chic; at Tottenham, he was the player who divided not just loyalties but traditions.
A frippery or a stylish throwback to the glory days? Ginola was shipped on, followed soon after by Graham. But as managers increasingly worshipped the gods of work-rate, Ginola became an expensive luxury, totally unreliable and utterly watchable. The French had dismissed him as ornamental much earlier than that, when a piece of eccentric nonsense cost Gérard Houllier's France a place in the 1994 World Cup. Houllier called Ginola's folly "criminal", though the convalescing Liverpool manager has always denied the word and, with Nicolas Anelka now residing across Stanley Park, clearly has his own fondness for temperamental mavericks.
That Ginola should be valued at £1.9m less than a workhorse like Lee Carsley bears eloquent testimony to his fallen status and the dubious priorities of the Premiership. Keegan and Ginola had their disagreements, even in those heady days on Tyneside. "But," Keegan said, "I always came out on his side because I like talent and I like attacking football."
Though Ginola may be the face of L'Oreal, his fitful career pattern suggests a tendency to Wash & Go. "I realised today that I wanted to get back to playing football again," Ginola added. "I want to end my career on a high." He refused to speculate on an extension to his contract next month. Much will depend on the outcome of Everton's annual struggle with the demons of the lower leagues. But if Everton do go down, at least they will do so dressed in grey wigs, top hat and tails.Reuse content