Andrew Warshaw: Leaden feet of a once silky mover

Back in the late 1990s as a passionate Tottenham Hotspur fan – which I still am – I was mesmerised watching David Ginola. He may have played at a number of other clubs, both in England and his native France, but it was at Tottenham where his silky skills were wholeheartedly embraced by the fans who elevated him to near-legendary status.

That dashing, dribbling wing play, the tricks and assists, those pinpoint crosses whipped into the penalty area. Ginola was the epitome of everything my club stood for: style, flamboyance and flair, qualities which have sadly been all too lacking in recent years.

Whilst he wasn’t always the ideal team player, with trademark Gallic shrugs of frustration when things didn’t go according to plan, Ginola was the mercurial entertainer. Even back then, everyone felt that when he eventually hung up his boots, he wouldn’t just disappear. He had intelligence and charm and was very much his own man.

You sort of knew that whatever he turned his hand to, Ginola, with his good looks and suave image, would carve out a career outside football. He got into modelling and acting and soon became a respected international television pundit.

No-one in their right mind, however, could possibly have predicted that, out of the blue, the former French international would take the risk of putting his name forward for FIFA president. With hardly a shred of experience in football politics – a pre-requisite for the job – the very idea seemed so ludicrous it could not possibly be taken seriously.

Yet just days before the January 29 deadline for nominations, suddenly we have a candidate so unqualified, it beggars belief.

From everything I have gleaned, cringingly embarrassing is the best way of describing Ginola’s launch announcement last week. It appeared to have been cobbled together so late, only a handful of cherry-picked media representatives were invited.

On the eve of the announcement, it became clear that Ginola was being paid no less than £250,000 by a well-known bookmaker notorious for its publicity stunts in his audacious attempt to unseat Sepp Blatter on May 29. Not only that. According to a promotional video, he was asking the punters themselves to help raise £2.3 million to fund his campaign by way of a crowd-funding scheme. It smacked of an April Fool’s joke. Only this was mid-January.

One wonders what Blatter, Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein and Jérôme Champagne, the other three candidates to have so far thrown their hats into the ring, thought of it all. Because on the surface, it seemed little more than another grandiose stunt, one that could surely only backfire on a highly decent man.

“I want to show and set an example to all the former players around me to say that we have a say in football – don’t let other people decide what is good and what is bad for the game,” said Ginola, who spoke of love and emotion. But for all his good intentions, when it came to providing an insight into the workings of FIFA, he came up woefully short.

Ginola, who won 17 caps for France but for whom England has become a second home, was part of his adopted country’s ill-fated bid to stage the 2018 World Cup. But that’s as close to the corridors of influence and power he has ever been.

To become an official FIFA presidential candidate, contenders have to secure the backing of at least five national federations and to have “actively” worked in football for two of the last five years. Ginola conceded that not a single nation had yet come forward to support him. He couldn’t even name a single FIFA executive committee member and appeared not to know what the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the game’s rule-making body, was.

In a way, one had to feel sorry for him. Hugely popular both as a footballer and a personality, Ginola has always seemed to want to make the world a better place and has done much for charity to educate children through the medium of sport, not least in his work with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation.

He is also an advertiser’s dream. But this was not about selling shampoo or clothes. Under the campaign slogan Rebooting Football, this was an ill-conceived foray into the murky world of football politics – at arguably the most sensitive time in FIFA’s recent history.

Even presuming Ginola somehow makes it to May’s election in Zurich, which is highly doubtful, he would stand almost no chance of unseating Blatter, who is on course to secure a fifth term in office. No-one can doubt his genuine passion for football or his desire for change. Nor should we decry the notion of retired players moving into football administration. After all, whatever one might think of some of his ideas, look where Michel Platini, one of the greatest ever to play the game, is now – head of UEFA. It all depends on the stature of the retired player concerned. The legendary Frank Beckenbauer was a FIFA executive member and organised a World Cup while his German compatriot, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, once a prolific striker, is now the highly respected head of the European Club Association.

Ginola, bless him, has no such pedigree.

He will doubtless hope he can secure backing from UEFA but Platini himself is reportedly understood to have serious reservations about the credibility of his compatriot’s campaign. To suggest Ginola has made a fool of himself seems far too cruel but it wasn’t the greatest of starts. The press release put out by the highly reputable public relations firm hired for the occasion promised a “huge story in international football.” Talk about insulting our intelligence…

One wishes Ginola luck – but he’s going to need a good deal more than that. The less-than-influential ChangeFifa pressure movement backing his campaign clearly believe in him but whether any of FIFA’s 209 voting member associations will feel the same way is highly questionable.

FIFA’s image is at an all-time low and for the sake of democracy, the more candidates the better in order to keep the canny Blatter on his toes. But not this candidate. Lovely guy Ginola might be but one fears such a left-field move may not end up being his wisest career decision.

Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at [email protected]om