Football: Gascoigne resumes national service

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The Independent Online

Fat, thin; extended hair, no hair, dyed hair; broken knees, broken legs; bust-ups with his girlfriend, his manager, in nightclubs, with photographers...What more can Gazza do to surprise us? How about a week when only his football makes headlines.

That has rarely happened since Italia '90, when Paul Gascoigne's form catapulted him from back page to front page, but now, it seems, no one would welcome a return to those days more than the player himself.

Yesterday Gascoigne was in his element, strolling about England's Bisham Abbey training ground, spraying passes and attempting dribbles. It was, he admitted, "fantastic" to be back in the England squad. "I am happy just to be here, if I get a game it will be a bonus," he said. "I feel hungry to play. I feel like a young kid again. I want to relax and play football."

Gascoigne is with England for the Umbro Cup, in which they play Japan, Sweden and Brazil. If he plays it will be his first England match for 14 months and it is expected to be followed by a transfer back to Britain, probably to Rangers.

While he said he had "not yet signed for anybody" he added: "I am looking forward to getting settled at another club and getting on with my football. Things did not go too well at Lazio but I hope to produce the goods as I did a few years ago.

"People have written me off but if I can stay injury-free and play every week I hope I can prove to them - and to myself - I can be a good player again, as good as before. I have had to work hard to come back from my injuries. I will not be beaten, I won't let anybody beat me, especially when it comes to football.

"My attitude to winning will never change but I will have to use my head more when coming into tackles. A couple of times I have been injured from wanting it too much. Being injured and not being able to play hurts, mentally and physically."

Terry Venables, the England coach, sat alongside all the while, almost glowing with admiration and pride in the player he once signed for Tottenham.

"It is terrific for everyone for him to be involved again. He is fit now, he just needs his timing and power back. That will come slowly.

"He has been out a long time and is better off being with us, working, than resting. He has come back from two career-threatening injuries and he is well ahead of schedule.

"When I went to see him play against Reggiana [in his comeback match] I was amazed he played the whole 90 minutes. He was not getting too stuck in but he did go at them and put himself in positions where he could be hit."

Venables may be tempted to play Gascoigne, who does not look match-fit, as a substitute against Japan in the opening game on Saturday. More problematic is who he plays in central defence, as Gary Pallister again sat out training with his rib injury.

He was joined by Steve McManaman (groin), Darren Anderton (knee) and Andy Cole, who sees a specialist tomorrow with his shin splints problem.

David Platt (thigh) was back in action but Gascoigne remained, as ever, the centre of attention. "I have got to have a little bit of luck this time," he said. "If I have not got football I have not got anything. I want to be happy again."

n The Reading striker Lee Nogan, who scored the opening goal in Monday's First Division play-off defeat by Bolton at Wembley, is one of four players added to the Welsh squad for next week's European Championship qualifier against Georgia in Cardiff. The others are Andy Melville of Sunderland, QPR's Michael Meaker and Alan Neilson, who yesterday moved from Newcastle to Southampton for pounds 500,000.