Ginola's left turn for the better

Stephen Brenkley talks to the newcomer confident of a glorious sojourn with Newcastle
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The Independent Online
THERE must be a certain something about a player who was coveted by three former European Footballers of the Year. The je ne sais quoi in question belongs to the Frenchman David Ginola, who was sought in the close season by Johann Cruyff at Barcelona, by Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern Munich and by Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United. He chose, with barely a second thought, Keegan's embryonic empire at St James' Park.

The decision was testimony both to the perception abroad of Newcastle's unrealised ambition and to their charismatic manager's persuasive powers. In Ginola's mind there appears no doubt that his new club is destined for glorious achievements. His stock statement, to everybody asking (and everybody does), is: "I'm very happy to be here. In France, Newcastle are big. It's my aim to be big here."

There is a touch of pleasant hauteur about the fellow and you suspect from his demeanour that he would not be at all surprised to follow the great triumvirate who wished to sign him from Paris St Germain in being voted Europe's top player. He affects to be unconcerned about the transition to the hothouse of the Premiership from the comparative cool box of the French League, though he may not yet quite grasp how feverish they can get around the Gallowgate End.

The physical aspect? He has played enough in European competition to know what to expect. The pace? He will play games at his own pace. The language barrier? There is none, for Ginola speaks English with charming fluency. His linguistic skill may be as important as the toughness and the speed because communicating only with a football has its limitations.

If Ginola is lodged already in the minds of English fans, it is likely to be for an inglorious miss in the European Cup-winners' Cup semi- final against Arsenal at Highbury two seasons ago. The memory of that should soon be erased. Before a ball has been kicked in anger he appears to have won his way into the hearts of the Newcastle faithful and the pounds 2.5m fee which Keegan paid already looks a short-priced favourite in the exotic signings category of the bargain-of-the-year stakes. As the 26-year-old Frenchman went languidly through his paces during a practice match at the club's training ground last week a group of fans talked of little else but his deceptive skill. He pulled his colleagues this way and that, drifting usually to the left as if he had got off the cross- Channel ferry at Dover and taken to heart the signs saying: tenez a la gauche.

There was a slight worry about his lack of speed. While this has also been revealed in the pre-season matches, it is not an habitual shortcoming. His national team manager, Aime Jacques, a long-standing admirer, said after making the trip to watch him at Celtic last Saturday: "David is still not fully fit. He is not accelerating as we are all well aware he can in France. But that should come."

Jacques, who omitted Ginola from a national squad last autumn but has included him for the European Championship qualifier against Poland on Wednesday, is in no doubt that the move to England will be beneficial for player and club. It will also do no harm for his country if they reach the finals here next summer. Jacques offered Keegan gentle advice: "I believe Newcastle will find his most effective position is down the left flank."

It is perhaps not unimportant, given the Gallic background, that Ginola seems of highly equable temperament. The nature of Premiership defenders suggests that this is bound to be severely tested. He has shrugged off close attentions so far but said: "Referees don't give me the number of free-kicks I feel I deserve here."

He was born in St Tropez - which might explain the film star looks - and having failed to make the grade at Nice played for Toulon, Matra Racing and Brest before their financial difficulties prompted his move to Paris where he spent four prolific years. Ginola is aware of the importance of this season to Newcastle. "We must win something and we must get into Europe, but we have a very strong side at the front."

If he can match the charm offensive with something similar in his side's forward offensive we should soon savons quoi all right.