David Ginola launches his bid to become president of FIFA in London
Former footballer says he wants to "reboot football" and rebuild trust
Ginola is being for his involvement paid by a well-known bookmaker
He must secure five nominations from FIFA members by January 29
On the pitch David Ginola was renowned for his poise and elegance.
But in his pitch to unseat Sepp Blatter and become the next president of FIFA, those qualities lasted about as long as the glossy montage to announce his candidacy.
In public relations terms, this was not a roaring success.
Suspicions had been raised by news the former Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham player’s bid for soccer’s top job was being funded by a well-known bookmaker with a self-confessed penchant for outrageous publicity stunts.
The revelation that Ginola was being paid £250,000 ($379,000) for his involvement – with another £100,000 earmarked for the football legend’s “security” – allied to his sketchiness when fielding questions about world football’s governing body and the detail of his campaign, did little to dampen the skepticism.
“I’m here today to talk about love. I’m here to share some of the most powerful emotions any of us have experienced,” was the 47-year-old’s impassioned opening gambit.
“That is what football means to me, you and the billions of fans across the planet. That’s why we’re so disappointed when we talk about some of the problems with the way our game is being run.
“It’s time to change that. It’s time to reboot football.”
Ginola briefly touched on a few key themes of his campaign; complete financial transparency as well as more funding for grassroots soccer and the women’s game.
But his bid to “reboot football” could fall at the first hurdle unless he can persuade five FIFA football associations to back him before the end of January and validate his candidacy.
His campaign team also have some work to do in “rebooting” Ginola’s knowledge of football politics it would seem.
Quizzed on the issue of third party ownership of clubs, or challenged to name some of FIFA’s executive committee members, he was unable to offer any tangible answers.
“We are just at the beginning of the journey,” he replied. “There are a few issues I will have to deal with and I think we are going to get to it in the next few days.”
Even if Ginola attracts the five backers he needs, he must then face the seemingly insurmountable task of toppling current incumbent Blatter.
FIFA’s president is in the 17th year of his reign and enjoys overwhelming support from the majority of organization’s 209 members, despite persistent allegations of corruption surrounding the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Ginola is undeterred though, insisting he didn’t want to “fight against the man himself” but that a positive campaign would strike a chord with football fans all over the globe.
“There is no room for doubt in football,” Ginola said. “If we cannot remove all suspicion or doubt there cannot be trust.
“I want FIFA to be seen as an example all around the world. It’s the most popular game and it must set an example for everyone on earth.
“There are three things that are very important to me: transparency, democracy and equality.”
If Ginola’s fee raised eyebrows, they were arched ever more at the request for fans to back their support with cold, hard cash; his team estimating that £2.3 million ($3.4m) will be required to run a full and proper crusade for office.
Betting company Paddy Power kick-started the funding for the project and its pedigree when it comes to publicity stunts prompted many people to dismiss Ginola’s bid as its latest attempt to grab column inches.
In 2010 they offered odds on which animal would be driven to extinction first by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and last year promised “money back if he walks” relating to the trial of disgraced South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius.
“We’ve been known for some mischievous activity around the world,” Paddy Power, son of one the company’s founders and its marketing spokesman, explained. “This is not that. This is for real.
“What we bring is maybe the muscle to get the ball rolling, but this is going to be crowd funded and hopefully the fans will get behind it and join the team.
“We’ve provided the platform, now it’s up to us to stand back and hand it over to the fans to make it happen.”
Also part of the “Team Ginola” launch was David Larkin, a sports lawyer, who told CNN the move was revolutionary in terms of FIFA’s presidential race as it mapped out exactly where the funds would be apportioned.
“If you live in the real world, you have to pay bills,” he said of Paddy Power’s involvement. “We’re going to be honest and tell you what we’re paying to who – nobody else is doing that.
“The irony is that so far the David Ginola campaign is the only one to do so and that has brought criticism. We have real transparency and real democracy at play here.”
Ginola vowed to flesh out the detail of his campaign in the coming days and weeks as his team sets its sights on lobbying for those five required votes.
But amid the soaring rhetoric and ‘Yes we can’ mentality there was still an air of distrust in the media pack relating to Paddy Power’s role.
Journalist Owen Gibson, who writes for The Guardian newspaper, told CNN: “Personally I’m deeply uneasy about the Paddy Power connection.
“It’s toxic because they are well known for their stunts and getting into the news in any way they can. It’s a win-win for them – they get plenty of PR, and it’s a win for David because he gets his fee.
“The danger is for those people who do want to see a genuine alternative; on the plus side we’re getting these issues debated, and talking about how things might change.
“On the flip side you’ve got the practical obstacles of getting five nominations by end of the month and the cynicism that will be generated by the fact it’s backed by a major bookmaker with a reputation for controversy and stunts.”
Gibson, who thought some of the questions directed at Ginola with the aim of tripping him up were “unfair,” said it was highly unlikely the Frenchman’s bid would represent a real challenge to Blatter.
“Slim to none would be a good way of summing up Ginola’s chances,” he said. “If Paddy Power were running the book it’d be interesting to see what odds they’d give you on him getting a nomination let alone winning the thing.
“Jerome Champagne (an independent candidate) has been going for a year and is struggling to get over that hurdle. That’s going to be a huge task for them in three weeks to get the required nominations.”
But Ginola’s optimism refused to waver as he conducted round after round of media interviews, bedecked in a sharp, blue suit.
“It is a serious challenge and I do care,” Ginola told CNN. “I think it is brave to embrace this challenge. I knew there would be tough questions.”
On the involvement of Paddy Power he said: “Bookmakers are in the game and today thanks to them we have this opportunity to launch this campaign.”
“David Ginola is perfect man to front the bid,” Larkin added. “This a real footballer raising his hand in a brave fashion saying ‘I’m willing to represent the fans.’
“It’s a political game. No-one has more charisma, more charm or the people skills that David Ginola has.
“If we didn’t think we had a real shot at getting five nominations we wouldn’t waste anyone’s time. We respect the fans’ time – they’ve got better things to do than deal with stunts.”