Football: Gascoigne discarded 'purely on fitness'

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The Independent Online
WITH his mirror shades and steely jaw Glenn Hoddle looked every inch the assassin yesterday as he coldly described, on the sun-drenched terrace of the Principe Felipe Hotel, why he had eliminated Paul Gascoigne from his World Cup 22. Facing a phalanx of television cameras, he insisted the decision was based purely on fitness. He needed players who could give him 90 minutes - and Gascoigne could not.

Afterwards, in a small room inside the hotel, with his sunglasses off but guard still up, he described the personal sadness he felt that Gascoigne had not responded to his backing. "I went out on a limb for him," said the England coach. "I tried so many times to make him see what he needed to do, at the age of 31, to deal with the modern game. It is very sad, we'll miss him."

Inevitably rumours have been flourishing as fast as the irrigated grass on the fairways of this artificial golf resort but Hoddle insisted it was purely a football decision. One suggestion, well-sourced, is that Gascoigne got drunk on Saturday night when the team had a social evening in the hotel bar. Another is that he was drinking beer on the golf course.

"I allowed them to have a drink on Saturday night but it was not a silly drink," said Hoddle. "No one got drunk. They've worked hard and deserved it. We had some music, some karaoke, but the staff were there. It was controlled. As for the golf, I didn't play golf with him."

On Friday, after the Belgium game, Hoddle had said Gascoigne still had enough time to get sharp, now he said that was no longer the case. What had happened in the interim? "I had time to study the videos and see the game again," said Hoddle. "Those games in Casablanca were nowhere near as intense as the ones in the World Cup will be but he was still not sharp enough to get away from people. In the modern game you need pace, you have to be an athlete. One of the reasons he gets so many injuries is that he is not fit enough.

"If he was fit he would be in the squad, but he's not at his best physically or mentally. Physically some of it is self-inflicted. He certainly could have been in better shape when he joined up with the squad. He was out of my jurisdiction in the days before then and could have looked after himself better."

That was the period of kebabgate and the late-night drinking binges with the likes of Chris Evans. Given the stakes, such behaviour was perplexing as well as foolish and Hoddle added: "Mentally he has always had a few problems and I have been able to see, ever since he arrived at Bisham Abbey [before the team went to La Manga] that things are not right.

"I considered whether I could take him and bring him on as a substitute but he is not even in shape for that. It takes time to get into a game and we cannot afford 20 minutes while he does that."

Hoddle did offer some solace to Gascoigne when he said: "I'm not saying his England career is over. It depends how he handles it. A fully fit Gascoigne, playing in the Premiership for Middlesbrough next season, would be in contention for a place."

Gascoigne made the right start at least, spending the day with his estranged wife Sheryl, and son Regan, at a health spa in Hertfordshire. Like the other dropped players he will be on informal stand-by until 9 June in case one of the 22 gets injured.

Of the others, Hoddle had the greatest sympathy for Dion Dublin. "That was the toughest decision. It was between him and Les Ferdinand and, with Ian Wright out, I wanted Les's extra pace. Dion was so close but Les has done remarkably well to get himself fit.

"Andy Hinchcliffe was injured and I didn't think Phil Neville was in the right form. We have been working intensively on other options on the left. Darren Anderton has played there, for instance."

Anderton, however, may play a more pivotal role. "As far back as a year ago I felt he could be a major asset," said Hoddle. "I had to push him to the limit here, in training and in matches, and his [previously injured] leg has stood up well."

Hoddle, who flew back with the team last night, was particularly pleased to have been able to include Rio Ferdinand.

"We've asked him to improve on his defending and he's worked very hard on it. In time he might be able to become the proper sweeper and allow me to play a system I've been looking to do for some time."

That is for the future. Yesterday the attention remained fixed on the star of England's past. "He still has a lot ahead of him as a player," added Hoddle of Gascoigne.

Time will tell. This could be the shock that will force Gascoigne to look in the mirror, like Tony Adams and Paul Merson before him, admit he is at rock bottom and start a new life. Or it could be the end of him.