Reformed Gascoigne turns into outpatient

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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE yesterday publicly confronted the problems that turned him into a drink-affected, mixed-up superstar, and pledged not to touch another drop, although he would not say whether he was an alcoholic.

Whilst bookmakers will no doubt be busily laying odds over whether he will be successful in his attempt to stay on the wagon, the footballer did his level best to convince his doubters that he is absolutely serious in his intentions.

As his club, Middlesbrough, announced that he could make a surprise return to football this weekend, Gascoigne stated: "I will stop drinking, that is what I have decided to do."

This was Gazza on his first day out of the specialist clinic where he has spent the past 16 days undergoing treatment for alcohol and stress- related problems.

This was, though, not the Paul Merson show. Unlike his former team-mate, there were no tears, no confessions of a life ruined, or almost ruined, by the evils of drink or any alternative, unmentionable addiction.

However from where he was sitting it was simply a statement of intent, a new leaf being turned over in the life of one troubled footballer.

Gascoigne's game plan was laid out for public inspection at news conference at Middlesbrough's training complex in County Durham.

It was called by the club in the perhaps naive hope that if the press pack were given 15 minutes of Gascoigne, he might be afforded the opportunity of getting on with the rest of his life without having to worry about why the garden bushes were suddenly moving. But he doesn't expect to be left alone, no matter how nicely his Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, asks. And ask he did.

With a knowing look, Gascoigne cast his eyes in the direction of the cameras and microphones littering Middlesbrough's new media centre and said: "I know when I walk out of this press conference I will be followed around for two or three months, maybe even a year. It is just a question of me dealing with it."

If it surprises the world of football that Gascoigne could be back in playing action on Sunday, it apparently does not surprise his manager, who was happy to welcome him back into training yesterday.

Robson, who along with Merson spent some time with Gascoigne at the Marchwood Priory Hospital in Roehampton, was armed with the knowledge that, both before and after long days of counselling, Gascoigne had thrown himself into punishing training sessions.

Some of the sessions saw him out on the roads at 7am, some of them involved work-outs which began at 11pm.

Not surprisingly, Gascoigne looked a shade sheepish and nervous. "I am feeling good," he opened up. "I have kept my fitness up and I am just looking forward to getting back on to the park. I organised a couple of five-a-sides at the hospital, but I can't say who won them."

Gascoigne gave only a brief insight into what went on behind closed doors. However he was at pains to make clear that it was anything but a horror story.

He went on: "It hasn't been that difficult. I had not been coping with things to the best of my ability before I went to the hospital. So it was in my best interests that I got away. It was not hard to ask for help.

"It just wasn't the drinking, it was everything. I was depressed. I would come back from trips and the papers would be full of me. I would just think, why?

"That is why I went into hospital to get everything sorted out. I feel better for it."

However on the question of whether this all makes him an alcoholic, Gascoigne attempted a sidestep. "I am not going to get into that," he said.

He is also refusing to blame heavily criticised friends for the problems which came to a head a couple of weeks ago, and seven months after his pounds 3.4m move from Glasgow Rangers to Middlesbrough. "Why should you say anyone has been leading me astray?"

Gascoigne went on: "I was going on to the pitch with a lot of problems which I should have coped with better, and that is what I want to do in the future. The manager has been very supportive.

"I just want to keep off the drink and get back on to the park, and cope with things outside football."

Gascoigne will now mix life back at Middlesbrough with two day a week spells at Marchwood where according to his manager he has been an "excellent patient".

So does all this make him a changed man?

The Gascoigne grin is not dead and he responded:

"I will let others be the judge of that."

Robson, himself, can't guarantee that Gascoigne will turn his back on the demon drink, and when asked what his chances were the Middlesbrough manager said:

"Only Paul can answer that.

"All I want Paul to do is enjoy his football and have a better life than he has had in the past. Paul doesn't blame his friends, and at the end of the day these things are your own choice. Just because you stop drinking it doesn't mean that you can't enjoy yourself."