Football: Gascoigne prefers to play dumb: Lazio's luminary refuses to address the press as debate over fitness weighs on his mind. Trevor Haylett reports

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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE supplied irrefutable proof yesterday that another football season, warts 'n' all is fast upon us. Wearing his darkest scowl, the finest English player of his generation abruptly departed a press conference arranged to publicise his involvement with Lazio in this weekend's Makita tournament and left embarrassed officials to explain that he will not be talking to reporters today, tomorrow, or at any time over the next 12 months.

It was a serious snub to the organisers of this annual curtain- raiser to the season which also includes his former club Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Ajax Amsterdam and also to Lazio who were contracted to make Gascoigne available for press and publicity purposes.

Apparently he is unhappy with stories concerning his weight and says, or rather somebody else said for him, that he is staying quiet for a whole year. Doubtless the media will survive without him and by saying nothing he does guarantee the sponsors' back page headlines, yet as far as Makita are concerned silence is far from golden and they were left fuming by the no-gas Gazza.

'Paul Gascoigne has not complied with what we wanted and that's a great shame,' a spokesman, Roger Broomhall, said. 'Now the onus is on him to do well on the pitch. Both Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle have been perfect for the tournament this week and it makes this even more of a shame.'

While their agreement stipulates Gascoigne's co-operation with promotional activities there is no financial penalty for Lazio, who are thought to be on appearance money of pounds 150,000, if he does not comply. That would only happen if he does not play in both games over the weekend.

The hotel scenario minutes after Lazio's arrival at Gatwick was comical. Hotly pursued by slightly less-fit photographers Gascoigne burst into the room designated for the question and answer session, took one look at the assembled scribes and promptly turned tail, muttering something on the lines of 'where's the restaurant?'

His 'now you see me, now you don't' performance happened so quickly it was virtually impossible to tell if the fuss about his weight had been blown up to the outsize proportions he was alleged to be carrying following his summer holiday. He then continued the Greta Garbo act in the restaurant, drawing curtains to shield himself from snooping cameras.

Once again the Lazio coach, Dino Zoff, and the club's general manager, Maurizo Manzini, had to defend their player. Zoff said people had to take account of the enormous pressure that followed Gascoigne around.

Fair enough but by refusing to talk he merely loads on that pressure and certainly he added to the workload of the hapless Lazio management and also to Dennis Roach, who is helping to promote the White Hart Lane event.

'Due to the press Paul has had this week, and we are still trying to get to the bottom of what was written, he has said he will not be talking to the media for 12 months,' Roach said. 'Dino Zoff was still trying to persuade him to speak to you as he came off the plane but he's adamant. Stories about his weight in the Italian papers were repeated in the English papers and he feels they were unjustified. Unfortunately, gentlemen, we can only apologise.'

Zoff said the situation was 'regrettable' and added that hopefully the player's performance on the field this weekend will 'lessen the disappointment'.

He added: 'He wants to concentrate on his game so he can give his best in the match. I'm happy with his decision to concentrate on the game. I hope his performances will soften the situation. I'm not surprised by this. This is very important for Paul to come back to White Hart Lane and he wants to ensure he gives of his best. Also you have to remember the pressure he is under. I played many times for Italy but even at the height of my career I never experienced anything like what he has to endure.'

The former international goalkeeper denied that his club were alarmed by Gazza's weight on his return from a Florida holiday but admitted: 'He was a few kilos over but they have now been lost. I don't consider him overweight. Like the rest of the team, he is still not in 100 per cent condition because pre-season has only just started. Last season he did very well considering how long he had been out. This season we expect more from him. Our squad is far stronger but he is still the most important element.

'Undoubtedly he is a better player after a year in Italy - but the best of him has not been seen. I will be looking for more consistency.'

By the time Zoff and co had finished speaking Gazza had completed his meal and departed the hotel. It was a shame. It would have been nice to ask if he had eaten well.

Makita preview, page 51

(Photograph omitted)