Manchester United sent shock waves through the football world when it agreed to meet the wage demands of Roy Keane earlier this year. You could almost hear the gasps of amazement as United's influential captain signed a new contract to remain at Old Trafford worth a reported $75,000 a week.
But only the very top players at the top clubs earn that kind of money, and they are the ones who are worth it. It is also important to note that it would have cost the Premier League champions more money to have replaced Keane — assuming that they could have found another player of similar ability. United manager Alex Ferguson would have had to pay a transfer fee far in excess of $15 million to secure the services of another Roy Keane, and that's before the new recruit's huge salary. So I think United were right to pay such a high price for such a key player. I know people will read this and think: "Of course he'll say that, he's a footballer too." But I can back up my argument with some sound logic.
When you take a close look at the merchandising industry and the vast sums of money the clubs earn out of their players, then why shouldn't players earn top money? A top actor can earn $20 million for one movie — but I never see people saying that's too much. I am not saying it isn't hard to be an actor, but I think it is a lot harder to be a footballer. If a scene in a film is not right, then they will redo it 10 times if they have to. But if as a footballer you miss a penalty, for example, the referee doesn't give you another six chances to score a goal.
I also think there is a big difference in the type of training it takes to succeed in these professions. If I wanted to become an actor tomorrow, it would be possible for me to have a go. But if an actor wanted to be a footballer tomorrow he couldn't suddenly become one. I started from the age of seven and trained hard to be a professional footballer, which takes years. But if I train as an actor from my current age of 33, I will still have a chance of making it as a good actor after a few years.
So many people work very hard during the week and when they go to watch football on Saturday afternoon they want it to take their breath away. It is the highlight of their week, their bit of escapism. When they go and sit in the stand they can release all the rage or pent-up frustration — maybe something has upset them at work, with their boss, or maybe they have had an argument in their relationship. Whatever it is, going to football makes them feel better.
Some football clubs blame the cost of keeping their top stars as the reason for them having to raise their ticket prices, but I don't believe the majority of fans blame the players and hold them responsible. I have the utmost respect for the fans and if I see another player refusing to sign an autograph it upsets me, as it shows a lack of respect. If it wasn't for the fans, there would be no money coming into football and players would never get the opportunity to earn so much of it, so you must respect them.
Soon a small group of players from 16 countries will be lucky enough to travel to Belgium and the Netherlands to compete in the European Championship. Despite the tournament coming right off the back of another long, hard domestic season, I believe the players involved will need no motivation to perform to the best of their ability. It may sound as if I'm lucky because I shall be soaking up the sun on a beach in Mauritius while Euro 2000 is going on. Unfortunately I have not represented France since 1994, but I can assure you, nothing would give me greater pride than to be representing my native France in the competition. I would be only too glad to extend my season if it meant playing in the tournament which is second in stature only to the World Cup. As a professional, I want to test myself against the best players in the world, and I would willingly swap places with any of my fellow countrymen.
I am currently playing my football in the English Premier League, and the reason I came to England in 1995 was to play for the current England coach, Kevin Keegan, who at that time was managing Newcastle United. The fact that I spent a season-and-a-half playing for Keegan enables me to tell you that he is the ideal man to motivate his players both physically and mentally for Euro 2000. Keegan talks the players' language and thinks their thoughts. Players listen to him because they know he has been there and done it all.
Keegan is passionate about the game, and the players like a manager who talks with passion. Those who are lucky enough to represent their country come from different club teams, but they will have no trouble integrating and chasing the same goal, because the European Championship is about pride — not about money.
David Ginola plays for English Premier League Club Tottenham Hotspur and is a former member of France's national team