Ginola: Because he's worth it
In an era in which boy bands dominated popular culture, David Ginola, a man who looked like a Musketeer crossed with a male model, was football's answer to Take That. Dancing down the wing for Newcastle and Tottenham, and making opposition defenders play to his tune, the flamboyant Frenchman was every inch a modern superstar and a true Premier League hero.
George Best may have the set the template with his string of Miss Worlds, fashion boutiques and fast cars, and David Beckham may have taken the phenomenon to a new level with the globalisation of his 'brand', but towards the end of the 1990s, Ginola was the footballer who achieved a level of celebrity that few could match - thanks in no small part to his outrageous ability on a football pitch.
Born in Toulon in January 1967, Ginola's career began with his hometown club before spells with Racing Paris and Brest. But it was in 1992 that his upwards trajectory was given a push of momentum when he joined Paris Saint Germain, earning the tag magique from the club's fans thanks to a string of stunning performances.
In 1994, Ginola helped PSG secure their first league title for eight years and was recognised by his peers when being named both French Player of the Year and French Players' Player of the Year. But by that point, his career in France was becoming untenable thanks to an aberration with the national side.
November 17, 1993 is a day that will live long in infamy in French football and a day which cast a shadow over the rest of Ginola's career. France, needing only a point to qualify for the World Cup finals in the United States, are playing out a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria at the Parc des Princes when the enigmatic Ginola, on as a late substitute, refuses to play the percentages and fires a cross-field ball to Eric Cantona. Disaster strikes when Bulgaria intercept and score through Emil Kostadinov, qualifying for the finals in the USA. Gerard Houllier, manager of the national side, reacted furiously: "David Ginola is the murderer of the team ... he sent an Exocet missile through the heart of French football ... David Ginola committed a crime against the team, I repeat, a crime against the team."
Receiving the kind of treatment that Beckham - the man who would succeed Ginola as the poster boy of the Premier League - would know only too well five years later, the midfielder was jeered across France and his international career lasted only two more years with his final cap coming in a European Championship qualifier against Azerbaijan. It was a sad demise for a talent who promised to light up the international stage.
But France's loss was England's considerable gain and it was Kevin Keegan who succeeded in luring Ginola to the Premier League in 1995 when he joined Newcastle United for a fee of £2.5 million. With his prodigious dribbling ability, penchant for the spectacular and no small amount of self-confidence, the cocky Frenchman quickly won the hearts of the Geordie nation, particularly amongst the female community.
In conjunction with Peter Beardsley, Les Ferdinand and, later, Faustino Asprilla, Ginola helped cultivate the "Entertainers" image of a talented squad, although, under Keegan, Newcastle famously let slip a 12-point lead in the league to lose the title to Manchester United - Ginola's suave calm contrasting to his manager's infamous implosion on live television.
After two seasons on Tyneside, and having attracted strong interest from Barcelona in the summer of 1996, Ginola made his way to Tottenham and the bright lights and celebrity haunts of the capital which was always destined to be his spiritual home. A chat with a certain Alan Sugar on a yacht in the South of France helped sweeten the deal and Ginola began his Tottenham apprenticeship in July 1997 when a deal worth £2 million was concluded. Spurs only finished four points clear of relegation and Ginola, with six goals in 34 starts, was second to Jurgen Klinsmann in the club's goalscoring charts.
It was an inauspicious start for Ginola at his new side but, when manager Christian Gross purchased a one-way ticket back to Switzerland following a poor start to the 1998-99 season, George Graham arrived and helped usher in the finest year of the Frenchman's career. Wreaking havoc from the left wing or when cutting inside, Ginola proved a playmaker of some repute for Tottenham and claimed his first piece of silverware in English football when helping the to record a 1-0 victory over Leicester City in the final of the 1999 League Cup.
Just five days earlier, in an FA Cup quarter final against Barnsley, Ginola had scored a goal that would prove his defining moment in England. Picking the ball up on the touchline, Ginola set off on a thrilling run that took him past Nicky Eaden, Robin van der Laan, Chris Morgan and Clayton Blackmore before slotting the ball past Tony Bullock. It was a breathtaking effort and one which rightly drew comparisons with a famous strike by his Tottenham predecessor, Ricky Villa.
For his part in Tottenham's League Cup triumph and excellent consistency over the course of the season, Ginola was rewarded with the PFA Player of the Year award and the Footballer of the Year award. Quite an achievement in a season in which Manchester United made history by securing the Treble. It is a fact that reportedly still rankles with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Having flourished under the hard rule of Graham, a clear case of Scottish chalk meeting French cheese, Ginola suddenly found himself unwanted at White Hart Lane and was flogged to Aston Villa for £3 million in the summer of 2000 - a turn of events that angered the midfielder. "It totally ruined my summer," Ginola revealed at the time on his official website. "I never asked to leave, I was happy at White Hart Lane and my family were settled in North London."
His time at Villa Park was certainly eventful with Ginola falling foul of manager John Gregory - most notably in December of 2000 when the manager invoked the ire of his midfielder when comparing Ginola to Mr Blobby. Quite aside from exposing how important Noel's House Party had become as a cultural reference point - a scandal in itself - the comment led Ginola to seek legal advice and the Frenchman roped in Cherie Blair, wife of Prime Minister Tony, to advise him. His most public rebuttal of Gregory's criticism came in a game against Manchester City though in which Ginola scored and tore off his shirt in celebration, exposing a finely-honed torso that bore little to no resemblance to the pink and yellow polka-dotted paunch that haunted Saturday evening television for years.
As a personal slur on his physique, Gregory's barb was one that Ginola took especially to heart as the last thing the finely-coiffured Frenchman could be accused of was not taking an interest in his appearance. With his flowing locks, devilish charm and Hollywood good looks, Ginola was by now a firm housewives' favourite. And, as one of the growing number of footballers to cross over into mainstream advertising at the time, along with Jason "Head and Shoulders" McAteer, Ginola also achieved notoriety for appearing in a nauseatingly-smug advert for L'Oreal, replacing none other than Friends star Jennifer Aniston as the face of the company. One famous haircut for another. Ginola also turned his hand to an advert for Renault as companies jumped at the chance to be associated with the debonair and handsome star who had turned legions of women on to the beautiful game.
Further evidence of the fact that his image outside of football was as formidable as his reputation within the game came in 1998 when the Red Cross approached him to replace Diana, Princess of Wales, as the public front of their campaign against land mines. With advertising contracts and humanitarian missions on his CV, it was clear that Ginola had transcended the role of a mere footballer.
In fact, in the final juncture of his career he was barely that as he made only five appearances for Everton in an abortive spell at Goodison Park that ended in July 2002, followed by his retirement. As well as sunning himself on the south coast of France, Ginola took advantage of his time off by engaging with the world of acting and even he produced an award-winning wine from his vineyard in Provence.
Looking back on his colourful career and life, Ginola recently stated: "I am a maverick, I accept that now." And while the French Football Federation, still smarting from his moment of over-confidence in 1993, may not agree, it was precisely those qualities - the unpredictable style, the dashing image, the supreme ego and the unconventionality that singled him out as unique - that made him such a memorable figure in English football.