Europe is best for Ginola

 

IS IT because he's rich, is it because he's handsome or is it because he is an exceptional footballer? Whatever the explanation, everyone wants a piece of David Ginola. Just spending an hour in his company yesterday bore witness to this a photograph here, an autograph there, a nod, a wink, any kind of recognition does.

Others, though, are not satisfied by this and break into his house or lurk outside it waiting for a word. As he said: "It could make you paranoid."

Privacy, you quickly discover, is a big deal to David Ginola. The lack of it in English society and the intrusiveness of the media is a subject the Frenchman is passionate about. "I can understand the reason behind why people burgle houses, but then for them to wreck the place?" he said with anguish. "What is this mentality?"

It is a situation that has led Ginola to sympathise with Princess Diana's media treatment. "One person I like is Lady Di," he said. "She seems like a good person. But they have all these pictures of her supposedly with other men. But you have to respect her privacy, you have to respect her as a mum with children."

Ginola's defence of the Princess of all our hearts was a little surprising as seconds earlier the Frenchman's critique of English society included a demolition of the Princess's former mother in law. "You have the Queen who doesn't work, doesn't pay tax and has the greatest fortune in the world. Then you have the workers. And that's the image of England all over the world?"

Admittedly, from behind his own privileged, frosted windows, Ginola, in the 15 months since his switch from Paris to Tyneside, has clearly noticed the gulf between the haves and the have nots in England and is well enough acquainted with the moral panic sweeping the nation to sit on Labour's front bench.

That is not to say the Newcastle forward sports an Arthur Scargill tattoo underneath his black and white jersey, because Ginola's attitude towards his fame and his wealth is reassuringly realistic.

"People say that you can be happy without money but that's wrong. There are two things that drive this world, sex and money. Everyone can have sex but most people do not have money and that makes them unequal.

"If you respect money you can do great things to help people but we live in a world where people use money the wrong way. In England that is very apparent."

Having said all that, Ginola insists he is not unsettled either in Newcastle or in England; that, he says, is a popular misconception. "There are too many wrong stories. I am not unhappy, my wife is not unhappy, she lives here and not in France and I have enough friends.

"Paris and Newcastle ARE different. In Paris I could go shopping with my wife but I can't do that in Newcastle because everywhere I go I have to sign autographs. So my wife has to do everything and that's boring for her. It's easier for me."

It has also become easier on the pitch since Ginola's recent tete a tete with Kevin Keegan. Since the arrival of Alan Shearer the Frenchman had felt overwhelmed by defensive duties that negated his natural attacking inclinations.

But, released from some defending, Ginola's form has blossomed. His spectacular goal against Manchester United was a defining moment for him.

"My confidence returned a bit. We have a different way since the club bought Alan Shearer. I have to play more in midfield but that's all we've changed. I think I've found my right place - at one stage I lost my view of my proper role.

"I tried to help defend but I will always be a striker. I said to the manager, `You can't get the best from me if I don't enjoy it'. I thought I was defending too much compared to last year. He understands me and since the Man United game I have felt more comfortable.

"It's good to be able to talk to him (Keegan) but not too much. I must respect him as my manager.

That mutual understanding extended to the Barcelona episode during the summer. Barcelona displayed an interest and Ginola responded but the transfer never happened. But, said Ginola, Keegan understood the temptation "because he's been in that position himself".

A move, he said, may come but his immediate future is pledged to playing for Newcastle in England, and in Europe. Tonight Newcastle do both when they face Ferencvaros in the return leg of their UEFA Cup tie.

Trailing 3-2 from that helter skelter game in Budapest a fortnight ago. tonight's game at St James's Park is crucial to Ginola.

"We must win," he said. Europe is the best thing. I'm not saying that a season without European football is boring because it's not, and it's good to see so much passion in the fans here, not like in France. I'm very impressed by that, but Europe is different, exotic."

Not unlike David Ginola.