Football: Gascoigne's availability sets off scramble for signature

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The news that Paul Gascoigne could be available for transfer has alerted at least three English clubs. Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur could face competition for the Rangers midfielder from an unlikely source - Crystal Palace. Alan Nixon reports

Paul Gascoigne trained with Rangers yesterday as speculation grew that he could soon be leaving Glasgow in order to return to England.

Sources at Rangers said that Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur had inquired about Gascoigne's availability, but that a third club - believed to be Crystal Palace - were also in the frame.

It is understood that Gascoigne has not yet decided whether he wants to leave Ibrox, although Rangers have hinted that he could leave the club if he so wished. The transfer fee would probably be between pounds 3m and pounds 4m, while the buying club would also have to match Gascoigne's current wages, believed to be around pounds 40,000 per week.

There have been reports that Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, advised Gascoigne that a return to English football would help him in his preparations for the World Cup next year. Gascoigne is understood to have spoken to Mel Stein, his solicitor and agent, about a possible transfer while he was on World Cup duty with England last week.

Villa and Tottenham are believed to have made firm inquiries, while Palace are also understood to have expressed an interest. Everton have also been suggested as a possible destination for the Rangers midfielder.

Villa are unlikely to conduct any negotiations until after their Uefa Cup match away to Athletic Bilbao next Tuesday. Brian Little, the Villa manager, refused to be drawn on the issue yesterday. "We don't talk about players who are under contract to other football clubs," he said. "It is not a policy of ours, never has been and never will be."

However, after Villa's disappointing start to the season Gascoigne could be seen as the man to revive their fortunes. There were recriminations at Villa Park yesterday following Wednesday's 3-0 Coca-Cola Cup defeat at West Ham, with Gareth Southgate, the captain, accusing his colleagues of lacking desire.

"What happened at West Ham wasn't acceptable, and it's happened on too many occasions this season," Southgate said. "We didn't play with enough desire to get anything out of the game. I don't want to go into individuals, but I do want to talk about the team - and as a group of players we need to pull our fingers out and liven up."

Southgate, who has taken over the captaincy from the departed Andy Townsend, said he did not think he should have to motivate the players. "I think we have to look at ourselves as a team of players and to look at ourselves individually to decide which way we want to go. If we want to play like we did at West Ham, like a middle of the table side, then we're going the right way about it."

Palace's interest in Gascoigne is believed to be a consequence of the financial support they have received in recent months from a fan, Mark Goldberg, a London-based multi-millionaire businessman. Goldberg helped with the recruitment of Attilio Lombardo, Palace's Italian international, and is understood to be an acquaintance of Stein.

There has been a flurry of transfer activity at Selhurst Park this week. Ivano Bonetti, the Italian midfielder who has also played for Grimsby and Tranmere, has joined Palace on a week-to-week basis, while an exchange deal is being lined up to bring the Wolves full-back Jamie Smith to Selhurst Park, with the forward Dougie Freedman and the defender Kevin Muscat moving in the other direction.

Freedman's contract runs out at the end of the season and the Scottish striker is understood to be keen to move after failing to win a regular first-team place this season. Muscat, a 24-year-old Australian, is believed to want to move for similar reasons.