David Ginola’s announcement that he is running for the FIFA presidency had all the hallmarks of another hoax.
The former Tottenham winger has form in elaborate deception - on and off the field - and Paddy Power’s involvement in hosting today’s press conference only added to the element of mischief.
The bookmakers are notorious for pranks and publicity stunts. On numerous occasions they have lampooned major sports stars for the sake of a headline. Take when David Moyes was under fire as manager of Manchester United, Paddy Power placed a break-in-emergency glass case containing an Alex Ferguson mannequin outside Old Trafford. Or when they opened a market on the Oscar Pistorius murder verdict – a move that came in for heavy criticism, and forced the bookies into a rare retreat.
Backing a Ginola fits their profile. Their hunger for publicity and a cheap laugh is well established.
But the real precedent for Ginola’s potential to string us all along goes back to a little-known BBC documentary he starred in.
Few remember, but back in 2004 the former France international was the central figure in a portrayal of ‘The Centre’, an exclusive retreat he had allegedly opened for stressed-out celebrities.
The show was broadcast on BBC3 and featured a number of celebrities who at first endorsed the Frenchman – but as the show progressed, a more sinister side of Ginola emerged.
In the style of an expose uncovering a disturbing cult, interviewees started to nervously open up, revealing the Frenchman to be a control freak who was systematically manipulating his patients/customers and was portraying himself as a Messiah-like figure, which the retired footballer creepily lived up to in his own on-screen interviews.
The documentary ended abruptly, leaving bemused viewers to flood (pre-Twitter) internet forums and messages boards wondering what on earth they had just seen, and what had become of this football icon.
It was subsequently revealed to be a hoax.
Ginola's announcement and intentions do appear genuine, but utterly incompetent. At the time of writing, his crowd-funding campaign at teamginola.com has raised £3,631, in addition to the £250,000 which it says Paddy Power have lumped on.
The Frenchman's performance today was in stark contrast to so many in his career. There was no potency to his answers. Indeed, at times he had no answers. He couldn't name a single member of the FIFA executive. He has the backing of no national football federations - the minimum required to become a candidate for the presidency is five. He appeared befuddled when questioned on key issues such as the laws of the game and third-party ownership, being rescued by the press officer when challenged on the latter. He came across as completely unprepared.
As PR stunts go, this was a serious own-goal.
Having fooled us all once - and thousands of defenders on countless occasions - today it was Ginola who made himself look like a fool. Football has been crying out for an alternative president to Sepp Blatter and Ginola took on a great responsibility by putting himself forward to be that man, albeit with what appears to be hefty compensation from Paddy Power. He then fluffed his lines in spectacular fashion. This could prove a body-blow for those seeking transparency and much-needed in world football's governing body. Ginola may have seriously damaged the cause he purports to support. It is hard to conceive his campaign being triumphant after today's farce.
That doesn't mean it can't be a roaring success for Paddy Power, who are surely capable of stringing this out all the way to January 29. That's deadline day for candidates to meet the criteria necessary to secure a nomination. Paddy Power have gained a shed-load of publicity already, and every punter will love a bookie who looks susceptible to backing a loser.
It will be no surprise if Paddy Power's actions have helped shorten the odds on Blatter retaining his crown.