Bleach boys live at Wembley

Ian Ridley senses good vibrations as England prepare for the Umbro Cup

IS PAUL GASCOIGNE at a critical stage of his career, his mentor Terry Venables was asked? "He always seems to be at a critical stage of his career," came the reply. The next week, though, will assume a huge importance for the player and the prospects of the England team, it seems. Suicide blond or blue-eyed boy?

Tomorrow, the first day of the rest of his life, Gascoigne will join the squad for the Umbro Cup tournament, which begins on Saturday. Then, over the next four days, Venables will decide, based on a "football instinct", whether Gascoigne is physically and mentally ready to face Japan, against whom England kick off proceedings at Wembley on Saturday.

It does seem - unless Gazza finds some new part of his anatomy to damage - that Venables will select him, worrying as that may be to his prospective new club, Rang-ers, who are waiting to formalise a pounds 5m transfer which promises Gascoigne a basic wage of pounds 15,000 a week for the next three years.

The latest injury in a staccato three years that saw him play only 51 games for his Italian employers Lazio - the broken leg he sustained more than a year ago - did appear to have healed properly when he returned last month against Genoa, taking what Venables described as a "boshing". Always with Gascoigne, however, there will be doubts. It is part of the psyche and persona.

Why such a fuss over one player, one so suspect in mind and body? An indication comes in the fact that Howard Wilkinson, not especially disposed to gambles or "characters" after his experiences with Eric Cantona, is ready to sign him for Leeds United, should any move to Glasgow fall through.

There has never been a problem about Gascoigne, only Gazza. In other words, the player's attraction remains, whatever the tiresome excesses of the personality. When not indulging in the ridiculous off the field, on it he can raise a team to the sublime with a talent of vision, control and piercing passing. The chance of him succeeding is worth the risk of the selection failing.

"I want to see his sharpness, the edge he's got, the timing, range of passing that he has, ability to accelerate past people which he can do so well and retain his strength," said Venables of the next four days' training. "I want to know the desire is there. When someone gets this type of injury, sometimes the desire goes from 100 per cent to 60.

"As far as him getting stuck into people, I'm not concerned if he's not doing that as long as he's doing the teamwork, fitting in, filling spaces, hustling for the ball and trying to win it. I'm really looking at what he can give us on the ball." Amen to that. Only Tottenham's Darren Anderton, in the continued omission of Matthew Le Tissier for his deficiencies in Venables's eyes in the filling-spaces-and-hustling department, has looked capable of the creative of late.

Gascoigne is likely to play just behind two strikers, one of whom may well be another rinsed blond - but never bland - in Stan Collymore, who would be winning a first cap to cover the new crop. He has earned his place in the squad after impressing the coach at the recent get-together for fringe players.

"He looked the part," Venables said. "There is a lot to his game. He can use the box or hit the wide areas and drop deep. He is capable of doing most things as a striker; he has that power to his elbow."

Collymore is indeed the type of player for whom Venables is looking, able to play as a spearhead, ahead of a partner coming from deep as Bryan Roy has been doing at Nottingham Forest, or running at defences with a surge of pace. His control, too, gives him an edge over Andy Cole. Often, when he has looked insouciant, it may be because he finds the game so easy.

Early experiences at Crystal Palace, where he did not feel attuned to the ribbing in the dressing-room and was glad to leave, seem to have been formative in a new confidence. "I've never seen anybody in football who can do anything that I can't do myself," he told me last season.

"What may have surprised people is that for a big lad I am very quick. Defenders don't like being run directly at. Being tall, I win flick-ons and I can hold it up as well as play a bit. Some strikers are not mobile and can't turn but I feel sometimes that I can do anything. That's not bravado. It's just things I know I can do."

Collymore's presence would probably be more reassuring for Alan Shearer, who has not looked especially comfortable when asked to play ahead of a withdrawn striker, in the way that Gary Lineker did with Peter Beardsley as his foil. It may now be that Collymore is more a partner to ease the burden, indeed that he leads the line with Shearer the one playing off him.

It could mean that Beardsley becomes a victim of the goalless draw with Uruguay. Tony Adams's absence with a thigh injury could give John Scales a first cap, although the late call-up to the squad, David Unsworth - deserving as much after his season with Everton - will warrant consideration. Paul Ince's withdrawal to recover from last week's court appearance could mean John Barnes becoming the midfield anchor he also is for Liverpool and in which he looked at ease in the second half against Uruguay.

Since the Uruguay game, Venables has sought to explain his thinking more in terms of the familiar 4-4-2 than the "Christmas tree" of 4-3-2-1 with which he began his stewardship; as much for players as public, having conceded they are most content with the simpler concept.

"I can play two up front, one in the hole behind or one up, two behind, next time two wide," he said. "But I don't want to look like I'm making life difficult so I've got to base it on a 4-4-2. They understand that. Then I can say, 'Well you play a little bit here or you go a little bit there.' That's fine."

He retains a belief in flexible and adaptable players, however. "I might want to change it round, looking at who we're playing against," he said. "To what I feel teams don't enjoy."

Whatever the selection, there should be a comfortable opening victory over Japan, whose huge financial investment in the game sees them developing apace though not yet finished international articles. A 0-0 draw against Scotland last week, even if played on a soaked surface, was some evidence of potential.

Subsequent matches, against the World Cup semi-finalists Sweden at a sold-out Elland Road and the winners Brazil at Wembley, also likely to be a full house, will be a different kettle of sushi, however. Gascoigne's inclusion, coupled with that of Collymore, should spice up matters and could lift the attendance for the match against Japan above the 50,000 mark.

Gazza was 28 yesterday. It is time for him to seize control of what remains of his career and achieve the greatness it once promised now that his recovery from injury is complete, even if relief from other afflictions has not yet begun. Then England, too, might be spiced up and lifted.

Umbro Cup fixtures and squads

Saturday 3 June

England v Japan (2.00pm, Wembley)

Sunday 4 June

Brazil v Sweden (4.00pm, Villa Park)

Tuesday 6 June

Japan v Brazil (8.00pm, Goodison Park)

Thursday 8 June

England v Sweden (8.00pm, Elland Road)

Saturday 10 June

Sweden v Japan (2.00pm, City Ground)

Sunday 11 June

England v Brazil (4.00pm, Wembley)

England

Goalkeepers: Tim Flowers, Ian Walker.

Defenders: Warren Barton, Gary Neville, Tony Adams, Gary Pallister, John Scales, Graeme Le Saux, Stuart Pearce.

Midfielders: Darren Anderton, David Batty, David Platt, Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes, Steve McManaman.

Forwards: Nick Barmby, Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Stan Collymore , Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham.

Japan

Goalkeepers: Nobuyuki Kojima, Kazuya Maekawa, Kennichi Shimokawa.

Defenders: Akira Narahashi, Hiroshige Yanagimoto, Masami Ihara, Tetsuji Hashiratani, Katsuo Kanda, Norio Omura, Naoki Soma.

Midfielders: Motohiro Yamaguchi, Hajime Moriyasu, Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, Kentaro Sawada, Toshiya Fujita, Kazuaki Tasaka.

Forwards: Hisashi Kurosaki, Kazuyoshi Miura, Masashi Nakayama, Hiroaki Morishima, Masahiro Fukuda.

Brazil

Goalkeepers: Zetti, Dida.

Defenders: Jorginho, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Rodrigo, Aldair, Marcio Santos, Andre Cruz, Ronaldao.

Midfielders: Cesar Sampaio, Doriva, Dunga, Edilson, Zinho, Leonardo, Rivaldo, Juninho.

Forwards: Bebeto, Ronaldo, Edmundo, Giovanni.

Sweden

Goalkeepers: Thomas Ravelli, Bengt Andersson, Magnus Hedman.

Defenders: Roland Nilsson, Patrik Andersson, Joachim Bjorklund, Roger Ljung, Mikael Nilsson, Pontus Kamark, Teddy Lucic, Jan Eriksson.

Midfielders: Stefan Schwarz, Henrik Larsson, Hakan Mild, Jonas Thern.

Forwards: Martin Dahlin, Kennet Andersson, Niclas Alexandersson, Ola Andersson, Niklas Gudmundsson, Magnus Erlingmark, Dick Lidman.

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