Taking control of the ball on the edge of the box, he lifts it over the onrushing defender onto his left side before unleashing a stunning volley into the top corner. The crowd goes wild as David Ginola writes himself into Geordie folklore with a blistering strike against Ferencvaros in the UEFA Cup that will forever be remembered by those who were there as well as the armchair spectators who watched in disbelief.
In was just one of a number of moments which ensured the winger left a permanent mark on the club and defined an era which has striven to be realised by countless managers and players ever since. But not only did Ginola offer some tremendous memories from the ’90s, but he announced the beginning of a Tyneside love affair with the Flamboyant Frenchman. Since his departure in 1997, Laurent Robert, Charles N’Zogbia and, now, Hatem Ben Arfa have bounced into St. James’ Park with their head held high and ready to take on the challenge of emulating one of the most exciting foreign players to have graced the Premier League.
When Kevin Keegan bought him from Paris St. Germain for £2.5m in 1995, the club was undergoing a major transformation which would see them come within a whisker of bringing the Premiership trophy to the North East, and Ginola was central to this. In a team which would be dubbed ‘The Entertainers’ due to the swashbuckling football employed by Keegan’s men, the Frenchman was the face of this most exotic of brands. He thrived on making defenders’ lives a nightmare with tricks and pace possessed in abundance. Aside from that UEFA Cup strike, arguably his finest moment in a black and white shirt came against Manchester United in a 5-0 victory never to be forgotten amongst Magpies supporters. With Newcastle already 1-0 up, Ginola received the ball 25 yards out with his back to goal, turned inside the defender and unleashed a breathtaking effort into that same corner in the Gallowgate, leaving Peter Schmichael jaw-dropped.
No player of Ginola’s kind was ever found for years, with the likes of Stephen Glass, a Scotsman, never going to reach these standards. That is, until Sir Bobby Robson went back to the same club to purchase another Parisian winger, Robert. He arrived carrying a similar reputation to that held by Ginola when he first arrived – talented if not known universally. He also came in similar circumstances as Robson picked Newcastle up from near relegation to Europe and another tilt at the championship crown, even if they did not quite reach the standards of Keegan’s side. Robert had a left foot shrouded in gold – when he lined up a free-kick the fear on ‘keepers face was plain to see. His goals against Tottenham, one an unstoppable volley and the other a 35-yard demon of a shot, demonstrated the doubtless natural talent with which he was blessed.
As Robert’s career fizzled out, however, Newcastle already had his successor at the club in the shape of N’Zogbia. Although not necessarily a left winger as he preferred an inside attacking role, he was often employed there and possessed a wicked left foot. Perhaps never quite hitting the dizzy heights of his predecessors when at their brilliant best, he was nevertheless a more consistent performer whose skill and speed enlivened the Geordie audience on many occasions. Although it was warranted, his departure sped up Newcastle’s decline and has never been replaced in the side. That is, until this week…
At 23, Ben Arfa arrives with five league titles already to his name and a giant reputation in his native country. Often described as one of the most exciting young talents in France, he will offer a combination of the qualities of the above individuals. Newcastle fans love to see a player run at defenders and their new Frenchman will do exactly that. None of the the Magpies’ central midfield can boast explosive pace amongst their armoury or a few tricks to take opponents by surprise and a new featherhas been added to the black and white cap.
Of course, in keeping with the trend of his fellow nationals, his reputations is by no means polished. Ginola and Robert were known as much for their poor temperament and laziness as their dazzling skills and left boot, while N’Zogbia became known as Charles Insomnia after throwing a sulk at Joe Kinnear mispronouncing his name. With bags of ability and Newcastle underachieving, he understandably wanted to showcase his skills on a grander scale. So he went to Wigan. Now, the latest recruit from the land of wine, baguettes and frogs legs arrives with destruction left behind him in Marseille after the nature of his transfer. Refusing to play again for the club, threatening to quit football altogether and flying to Newcastle without a transfer agreement may paint an image of a not-so-flattering nature. Indeed, it could be argued that he has a lot to prove to the Tyneside public who remain wary of his character.
Well, all it takes is a little read through the history books or a cyber trip to Youtube to see what is required to make the leap into Geordie hearts.
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