Monday, October 29, 2007

The David Ginola Interview


(Published in print in the United States -- April 2000)

A stellar member of soccer's royal house is a bit tired of life around the castle, it seems. What else can explain it? Frenchman David Ginola, the mercurial midfielder for Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, plans to join Major League Soccer when his multiyear deal expires.
"It would be nice to end my career in America," Ginola told me during a telephone interview Friday from London. Ginola had been asked about ex-Tottenham player Juergen Klinsmann's recent praise of the five-year-old American league.
That's when he volunteered insight into a future the brass at MLS' New York offices could only dream about. Roberto Donadoni, Hristo Stoitchkov and Lothar Matthaeus were key signees, but Ginola lives in another stratosphere.
"I have been thinking about it for a while," Ginola said. "Why not? Right now, I am a player for Tottenham Hotspur, but this Major League Soccer -- the quality is very good.
"I don't underestimate any country's football, including America. I have seen these Major League Soccer matches on the TV. Who knows? I take it day in, day out.
"I played (for a FIFA world all-star team) at Giants Stadium years ago, and we saw the Western Conference vs. the Eastern Conference before us. There is a high level of play in the United States."
And Ginola knows of what he speaks. Since his arrival at White Hart Lane in North London in the fall of 1997, the Gossin-born Ginola has thrilled the Spurs faithful with a batch of spectacular goals.
His form in 1998-99 earned him the Premiership's Player of the Year award. He has struggled to maintain that level of excellence this season, but, every now and again, the 33-year-old Ginola reminds his peers how dangerous he can be.
On Monday, April 3, Ginola almost rallied Spurs from a two-goal deficit vs. Middlesbrough in a driving rainstorm. With a Sky Sports audience domestically and FOX Sports World viewers tuned in overseas, Ginola electrified White Hart Lane with an 82nd-minute goal for the ages.
His wild hair flowing, Ginola pounced from left midfield and held the ball near the top of the goalmouth. He dribbled across the pitch, creating space for himself like the great scorers do. His right-footed shot twisted and hovered a foot off the ground until it found the back of the net. Spurs lost 4-3, but attacking soccer won a moral victory, at least.
Ginola downplayed the significance of his individual presence in the Premiership the past few seasons. He's more interested in team success.
"We haven't reached our target, which is to be top five in the league," he said. "We want to do well in cups and in European competition, and we've been eliminated early. There is much disappointment."
As a Frenchman known for flair playing in the once rough-and-tumble Premiership, Ginola is a natural target for opposing fans, who often question his nationality, personal appearance and perceived penchant for diving.
The French abuse has affected Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit noticeably, but Ginola has been able to weather the storm.
"You have to make it a positive, the way the fans treat you," he said. "It is just part of the game. When I watch your NBA on television, when the player stands to shoot you have the fans waving the sticks. It is the same thing here."
Many close to the sport wonder if the television money pouring into the English, Italian and Spanish leagues is changing the sport irrevocably -- taking the match seats away from the workaday fan and placing them firmly in the corporate sector.
Ginola's viewpoint?
"It is very bizarre someone from your country is asking me that question," he said with a laugh. "Money rules the world now, especially in America. I say this as a sportsman. We are just trying to be as good at it as you are."
He then focused his comments to reflect the cash influx's effect on UEFA's clubs: "European football is investing a lot in the players, not just those playing now but those who will play in the future -- the next generation. We have to be careful for them as well."
Ginola has extended his reach beyond Britain's soccer medium. The former Newcastle United, Paris Saint-Germain and Toulon player has been active as an International Red Cross spokesperson against landmines, which still litter locales in the Balkans and other theaters of war.
He feels no obligation to act on such weighty issues, but Ginola lets his humanity rise to the core.
"I do not do this as a footballer," he said. "I do this as a person. If someone comes to me and asks me to speak out, I will do it if I feel this way. People need to know of these things."
It is that outspokenness that has sometimes haunted the Frenchman, especially where playing for his country is concerned.
His well-known feud with current Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier about wearing France's famous blue shirt even involved Ginola's father.
The tawdry affair is well behind the Tottenham player now.
"I don't think of the past, even though this is part of my life and journalists keep talking about it to me," he said. "Life is like a river flowing by; sometimes it is clean, sometimes filled with rocks."
Rocky is one way to describe Ginola's introduction in the press to Tottenham manager George Graham. The Fleet Street tabloids speculated the ex-Arsenal boss would reject Ginola's style upon his arrival, in favor of the Gunners' defensive blueprint.
According to Ginola, the truth is far from the perception.
"Since his arrival, the manager and I have wanted nothing more than to make the club successful," he said. "Spurs belong at the top. It's only a question of time and quality players being added to the squad."