#6. David Ginola – PSG to Newcastle United: £2.5m
It’s hard to believe that almost a quarter of a century has passed since David Ginola signed for Newcastle United in a £2.5m deal in 1995.
The Frenchman’s arrival on Tyneside coincided with one of the most illustrious periods of the Magpies’ recent history, and Ginola – whilst only turning out 58 times in the famous black and white stripes – was a central part of those celebrated days at St. James Park.
Up until Ginola turned up in Newcastle, United had flirted between English football’s top two tiers in an indifferent post-war era that never really looked like ending until former terrace favourite Kevin Keegan took charge of the Geordies in 1992.
A Ballon d’Or winner as a player, Keegan also found instant success as a manager, guiding a relegation-threatened Newcastle to safety in the old Division Two, before winning the title the following season.
With promotion to the Premier League [formed a year prior] confirmed, Keegan soon proved his nous in the transfer market. Andy Cole signed from Bristol Rovers and scored 12 goals in his first 12 games for the Magpies. Rob Lee arrived from Charlton Athletic and became a central part of the Club’s future endeavours in the top flight.
Upon promotion to the Premier League, Newcastle United ended up finishing third. This is still a record for a newly-promoted side and is very unlikely to ever be broken.
In 1994/95, Newcastle ended up finishing a disappointing 6th in the table – missing out on qualification to the UEFA Cup by one point, largely down to Cole’s mid-season departure to Manchester United for a British transfer record fee of £6m.
To combat the slump ahead of the upcoming season, Keegan made a number of signings to help the Magpies become more competitive. Les Ferdinand’s £8.5m move from QPR grabbed the headlines, as the England forward was brought in to replace Cole. David Batty, a combative midfielder who had just helped Blackburn Rovers to the Premier League title also arrived on Tyneside for just shy of £5m. Warren Barton, a steady and dependable right back also arrived after a big money move.
However, it was a handsome Frenchman by the name of Ginola who proved to be the shrewdest investment of that summer. The former PSG winger departing Paris for a fee of £2.5m. Ginola was a gamble. Whilst he had shown promise in his homeland, he was known as a maverick. Not so much for ill-discipline off of the pitch, it was France Manager Gerard Houlier’s public criticism of the winger following his side’s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup that had led to the fall of Ginola’s stock.
Houlier’s France needed a draw in their final World Cup qualification match in order to confirm their route to the States. In injury time, Ginola found the ball out wide and in his accustomed fashion fled up the wing in pursuit of a winner. Had Ginola defended the ball in the corner, perhaps France would have qualified.
Unfortunately, Ginola was cast as a scapegoat when his cross was collected by Bulgaria’s goalkeeper and the opposition duly went up the other end to score a dramatic late winner. Bulgaria would then go on to make the semi-finals in America.
The Ginola gamble paid off almost instantly for Keegan. The Frenchman arrived at the club – in spite of offers from Barcelona and Bayern Munich – on July 5, by December in that same year, Newcastle were 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League. Ginola was an integral part of Newcastle’s excellent start to the campaign – starring in four consecutive August wins for the club, the Magpies winger went on to collect the Premier League Player of the Month award that same month.
Unfortunately, Newcastle’s performances had derailed, come the end of the season, and Manchester United pipped Keegan’s side to the title. The following year, despite the arrival of Alan Shearer for a then record transfer fee, Newcastle still couldn’t improve on that second-place finish – this time pipping Arsenal and Liverpool to UEFA Champions League qualification by goal difference.
Ginola’s time on Tyneside was unfortunate not be decorated with silverware – the Frenchman moved to Tottenham Hotspur after two seasons, when Keegan was replaced by Kenny Dalglish – but his involvement as the shining star in a competitive squad, featuring the likes of Alan Shearer, Phillipe Albert, Faustino Asprilla, Keith Gillespie, Lee Clark, Peter Beardsley, Pavel Srnicek and the rest – made up largely by local lads and exotic stars – will have won him a place in the hearts of Geordies for many generations to come.