Football: Charlton cheered by Gascoigne

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The Independent Online
Jack Charlton, one of England's 1966 World Cup heroes, believes Paul Gascoigne is back to his best for England because he knows England can do without him.

The former Newcastle manager, who first nourished Gascoigne's precocious talent when he was a 16-year-old at St James' Park, claims for too long England had relied on just him for inspiration.

Now he feels some of that pressure has been lifted off the controversial star's shoulders by the emergence on the international scene of David Beckham and the rest of the young lions.

"I think Gazza at the moment is no longer the be all and end all for England," Charlton said. "Now he's just a member of the team and the rest of the side can perform without him.

"This suits Gazza because now he can worry just about his own game rather than before when he was a high-profile figure, who was being constantly followed around and being criticised one minute and praised the next.

"He's no longer the man opponents point their finger at and say `stop him and you stop them.' Players like Beckham have come through and have taken a lot of pressure off him and Gazza always plays better when he is relaxed. Now he's just one of the lads, which is all he ever wanted to be in the first place."

Charlton was thrilled to see Glenn Hoddle's side qualify for next summer's finals in France and feels they can do well. In particular, he believes the national side is reaping the benefits of English clubs' improving fortunes in Europe.

"I do fancy England," he said. "At the moment our club sides are doing well in Europe and we've seen Newcastle and Manchester United have good results.

"This all helps boost the confidence of players and now that they've proved themselves, they need be afraid of no-one.

Charlton, who as Republic of Ireland manager led them to two World Cup finals, claims they have an excellent chance of joining England in France.

The Irish have been drawn against Belgium in the play-offs and Charlton reckons the Belgians are a side in decline. "Belgium are not the power they used to be," he said. "Ireland are on the up and up. They also have a few players to come back and once they return, that will help Mick McCarthy even more."

Charlton also feels Scotland coach Craig Brown has done a marvellous job in leading them to the finals, but he is unsure how they will go in France. "They are not a team of stars, whereas in the past Scotland always used to have star players," he said.

"I was listening to Craig Brown the other day and he was saying how much they relied on each other and how well they work together as a team. But it remains to be seen how they will do in the finals."