Opinion: David Ginola – Was he really worth it?

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It has an incredible ability to alter memories, to rose-tint and to allow a certain degree of poetic license to become fact within our minds. 

When we look back on the careers of some of the legends that have brought us immeasurable delight throughout our years of watching football, it can be easy to misremember, even block out entire events or performances to suit the narrative that we have ourselves created. 

When I think back to the late 1990s, I am transported back to a simpler time. A time in which every team in the land played 4-4-2, a time where watching James Richardson reading the paper next to an ice cream in a piazza was unmissable television.

The sleeves on football shirts ended halfway down your forearm and David Ginola was the king of White Hart Lane. 

For years now we have looked upon Ginola’s time at Spurs as, for him personally anyway, successful. He is viewed by the majority as a beacon of light in a dark period of Tottenham’s recent history.

He embodied the hope that one day the club would return to competing both domestically and in Europe. A longing to return to the days that Spurs were the envy of the country and before anyone had ever heard of Kaiserslautern.

He played in teams that were either fighting relegation or battling for mid-table mediocrity while our biggest rivals, rivals in terms of geography rather than on-field success at the time, were in title races.

His flair, his reliance on skill, alongside his pace and power had become the personification of a philosophy that had become somewhat lost amongst the managerial changes and unrest surrounding the club upon his arrival.

The ’98-’99 player of the year award – which was maybe in part awarded to him due to the spreading out of votes caused by the collective brilliance of Manchester United’s treble winners – is not a recognition to be dismissed lightly, whatever Sir Alex Ferguson says. 

The Frenchman’s numbers, however, were never outstanding. In fact, his goal return was pretty unremarkable considering the way in which he is remembered.

Heung Min Son’s goal to game ratio is more than twice as good as Ginola’s. Even the perennially inconsistent Lucas Moura’s is significantly better.

Of course, modern Spurs players will have played in a vastly different system and as part of a much more prolific team than Ginola. But even Christian Ziege, Spurs’ left-back from ’01-’04, had a better strike rate. 

He somewhat made up for his lack of quantity with the sheer quality of his finishes, though. A scorer of spectacular goals, he was wonderfully gifted with both feet. Whenever the ball would find him, the crowd would stir in anticipation with a collective “go on”, excited at the prospect of what could happen.

Defenders and fans alike seemed none-the-wiser as to which way he would be taking the ball. His slalom versus Barnsley, the volley against Leeds, his vital goals in the run to his only major trophy in England, the 1999 Worthington Cup, are iconic moments in Tottenham’s history. 

His departure from the club in the July of 2000 came from nowhere and without the chance to say goodbye or the opportunity to see him decline into a shell of his former self the memories fans were left with were of a peak Ginola.

His later mistreatment at Aston Villa at the hands of John Gregory left a sour taste in the mouth. Although if he had stayed at Spurs much longer perhaps George Graham would’ve ended up calling him fat as well. 

Whenever he returns to Tottenham these days he is still treated as he was back in his heyday. He emerges from the tunnel to rapturous applause, to chants of “GI-NO-LA”. He waves, applauds back, grinning, he basks in the acclaim.

Somehow, neither the inexplicable appearance on Stars in Their Eyes at the start of the new millennium nor the bizarre flirtation with Paddy Power and, subsequently, the FIFA presidency could dim the affection of the Tottenham faithful.

Perhaps to a certain degree, the performances and ability of Ginola have been exaggerated by some. And maybe he is a beneficiary of time and nostalgia and a yearning for a different era. But sometimes that’s enough.

Through abject despair came a torchbearer of poise and flair, playing for a team whose history was weighing heavy on its shoulders. The player that supporters of a club, with little direction, would look towards.

I’m not sure he’d get into Jose Mourinho’s current squad, let alone his starting XI, but that’s not to say that his place as a legend of the club is undeserved.

His ability to keep fans entertained and enthralled during his all-too-fleeting tenure at Tottenham was one that I don’t think can be overstated.

For a while, he was the only source of joy in the white half of North London. Because not only was he a handsome man, he was a bloody beautiful footballer. 

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