A personal point of view is that Gascoigne should have been ditched following his outrageous behaviour in Hong Kong

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The Independent Online
When Jimmy Hill was chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, or perhaps later on as manager of Coventry City, he stated that childishness came naturally to men playing a boys' game.

Of course, Hill's tolerance stopped short of anti-social behaviour, but in positions of authority, and speaking from personal experience, he understood that environment figures prominently in the equation.

No footballer represents juvenile comportment more boringly than Paul Gascoigne, although he is somewhat different. Contrary to the daft intellectualising that concluded shrewdness on a recent television programme, Gascoigne is a boy playing a boys' game.

An allegation of wife-beating is more serious, raising the question of whether the England manager, Glenn Hoddle, a declared Christian, should apply moral rather than technical judgement.

Based on Gascoigne's performance at Wembley earlier this month where he contributed very little to England's narrow victory and was overshadowed in all aspects of the game by Poland's veteran captain, Piotr Nowak, another question is whether he has any sort of international future.

In announcing its right to deny Hoddle any players whose behaviour makes their selection an embarrassment, the Football Association may be acting hypocritically on the assumption that there is not much more to come from Gascoigne anyway. If so, his omission from the England squad to be named next week would do them no credit and raise a great deal of conjecture.

On the other hand, pragmatism is nothing new in football. Never mind that Manchester United put Eric Cantona's influence on the field above the shame he brought down on them. The most revered of their managers, Sir Matt Busby, may have agonised over the besmirching effect of George Best's many misdemeanours, but he never lost sight of what the Irish genius could possibly do for him.

The great Celtic manager Jock Stein, a stern disciplinarian, claimed that his greatest achievement in football was not winning the European Cup, but prolonging the career of his notoriously wayward winger Jimmy Johnstone. Dave Mackay punished himself socially (importantly, he set a good example in training) after joining Derby County from Tottenham Hotspur, but Brian Clough, who was normally severe in administration, never uttered a word of admonishment.

Until last week, plenty of people were prepared to testify that all Gascoigne needed was a cuddle. Jack Charlton, who saw the beginning of him at Newcastle claims that he never saw any evidence of malice. "Cheeky little bastard who had to be told that he should show senior players more respect, but no real badness," he said of Gascoigne. Terry Venables, both as manager of Tottenham and England coach, claimed that Gascoigne was never a serious problem.

A personal point of view is that Gascoigne should have been ditched, if not by Venables then certainly by the FA following his outrageous behaviour in Hong Kong last summer.

Times have changed, maybe for the worse, maybe for the better, but a problem for sports stars today is that they have to contend with attention on television and in newspapers even their most illustrious predecessors seldom - if ever - encountered. For example, the greatest footballer in history, Pele, was never subjected to the pressures that destroyed the career of Diego Maradona.

Watching Gascoigne being interviewed on television this week immediately after turning out for Rangers against Dunfermline in a Coca-Cola Cup semi-final, it was again difficult to draw a lead on him. Was the contrition implied by a miserable expression and rambling acceptance of the need to concentrate fully, on and off the field, genuine or merely another performance?

Probably, he didn't know. That I think is the truth of it. To assume that he is clever enough to exploit the wide focus of attention is nonsense. Hostage to his genes, Gascoigne's behaviour is usually a reason to think that he should be told to go off and play with the other children.

There is also the thought that people in this trade and across the airwaves have overestimated the extent of his talent. "Gascoigne's done some terrific things on the field but can you recall him playing a truly great game?" a manager in the Premiership asked last week. Frankly, I can't think of one.

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