Football: Buoyed by the Gazza factor

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FOR the first time in his life, Terry Venables is about to do something for next to nothing. In the language of someone who, when he wanted to buy himself into Tottenham Hotspur, talked millions, and when he was their chief executive earned pounds 250,000 a year, next to nothing means the pounds 175,000 the Football Association will pay him for managing England. But the bonus is likely to be the return home of Paul Gascoigne.

After the commotion of his introduction to the media was over, Venables learned that Gascoigne had said that his recent problems with Italian photographers had finally convinced him that he should leave Italy this summer. Liverpool and Newcastle United will be taking special interest.

Venables' eyes brightened when he heard. He thinks he understands Gascoigne, but so did Graham Taylor. At least Venables knows him of old. He said: 'I'll be going to see him soon. I want to know how he's thinking.' He knows that a fit and happy Gascoigne could get England to the European Championship final of 1996.

Venables admits that for the past six months football has played a frustratingly peripheral part in a life full of the problems most people, including himself, thought would eliminate him from consideration as Taylor's successor. 'I've seen a lot of games on television and people have let me have videos, but I've not actually been to a match this season,' he confessed. 'But why worry about that, look at Kevin Keegan, he didn't see a game here for six or seven years and look at Newcastle now.'

Venables said that after the Panorama programme further damaged his chances, he doubted whether the England job would ever be offered to him. 'There were times when I felt it was time to try something different.' It was a familiar threat from someone who has diversified into being a co-

author of novels and owner of a London wine bar. He says that if England had ignored him for a second time he would 'have gone out of football'. For their part the FA have made it clear that any future business ventures should not involve his name.

Venables is busy attempting to refute suggestions that the FA have allowed themselves to take take an out-of-character gamble. What everyone knows is that he headed an FA shortlist which was as limited as the inventory of world-class players available to Taylor. That modest list is still headed by Gascoigne; however, Venables has reiterated that he is not closing doors on any of the older 'stars', like Peter Beardsley or Chris Waddle.

While Venables says that because of the limited time he will have with the players his title of coach is likely to be a misnomer, his experience in Spain made him aware that 'no one in Europe likes playing against us'. That, he says, is something to build on while 'improving the skill factor'. So did Taylor and Bobby Robson and Ron Greenwood and . . .