Football: Gascoigne's light fading fast

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The Independent Online
reports from Tbilisi

Georgia 0 England 2

You feel a bit like the only person in the gathering who doesn't get the punchline. The perception of some was that Paul Gascoigne had rewarded Glenn Hoddle's faith in him. Hoddle himself believed England's turbulent soul had given a "great performance."

To this observer, it was simply sad watching Gascoigne. While he had sporadic moments of influence, beginning the moves for both English goals - giving Hoddle the best start of any new England coach with a third consecutive win - mostly we witnessed an understated, unambitious display that left one wondering whether Gascoigne's capacity for genius was now to be repressed.

At one point in the first half, Gascoigne had a chance to go past the last defender, and your attention was suddenly heightened. He could not take it, however, the change of pace no longer evident.

In the second, you thought that Hoddle must surely bring him off as he wandered lonely and seemingly tired. Others around were doing the up-and- down work, notably the admirable all-running, all-tackling David Batty.

There may be mitigation; in Hoddle's instruction to stay well forward, in Gascoigne's completion of 65 short passes. Not one long one, or through ball did he attempt, however. Not a shot on goal did he venture. His slowing of moves by holding up the ball and disdaining the piercing pass was taking the aim of retaining possession to ridiculous lengths. It was an outing of ordinariness.

"He enjoys that role further forward," Hoddle said. "I am going to make him enjoy it. I have no doubt that the old Paul Gascoigne will be back. There is still skill and magic there but perhaps not so many times in a game," he added.

For Gascoigne to rediscover them anywhere other than in accommodating Scottish League, it is clear that his fitness must improve, physically, mentally and emotionally. Hoddle will be staying in touch with him and his manager at Rangers, Walter Smith, lending an ear to his problems, encouraging him to stay in counselling. Gascoigne himself says that he will be "trying to sort out my family."

Actually, it is only himself he really needs to sort out, rather than the wife he beat, Sheryl. From staying on his own case, all would surely flow. A concern is that, fearful for his footballing future, he may be simply be complying with all the counselling, rather than giving himself to it; another is that he receives the right help in dealing with his core problems of drinking and eating habits.

Enough of the negative. England positively achieved a splendid result despite Gascoigne, and not because of him, thanks to Hoddle's perceptive tactics and the implementation of them by a group who executed his instructions to the letter.

"Maybe the penny has dropped," Hoddle said. He had had, he said, "stern" words after the unimpressive 2-1 win over Poland last month. "I said 'there is no option here. Get on board or you could find yourself outside the squad.'" So much for soft old Glenda.

The display was dotted with individual quality to enhance the collective coherence. Sol Campbell took his place on the right side of the three- man defence with aplomb while Batty's role was pivotal in smothering the respected Georgian midfield and negating the talents of Georgi Kinkladze.

Up front, Teddy Sheringham pulled it all together as enthusiastically as the splendidly demonstrative brass band leader immediately in front of the press box, who struck up his charges just as telephone lines to London were established.

Sheringham's opening goal was fitting reward for his intelligent work, as he liaised well with Les Ferdinand. As he had done last spring for the winning goal against Bulgaria when the two last played together, Sheringham then supplied his partner for a second that effectively ended the match, turning sullen the initially sunny Georgians. Hoddle decided, he said, to pick the pair 10 minutes after he had heard about the injury to Alan Shearer.

"The structure of this side was tighter than we expect of England teams," said Italy's watching assistant coach, Pietro Carmignani. "You have forwards who always can score." Do not, he added, underestimate the worth of Andy Hinchcliffe and the balance he brings to the team.

Carmignani also thought Hoddle's decision to play Gascoigne a wise one, for the long-term encouragement it might give the player. Whether Gascoigne can elevate his game, and do justice to his rare talent, for a potentially epic match against Italy at Wembley on 12 February will now depend how he responds to the encouragement over the next three months.

It is to insult him just to expect the same as other mortals when he is capable of the outstanding. In the leading example of Tony Adams was shown what is possible on the field by someone addressing with abstinence his problem of alcoholism off it.

As committed to the cause as ever, the leaner, more assertive but less underminingly aggressive Adams could now go on to develop his potential from simple stopper to more sophisticated sweeper.

Gazza has spoken recently of the rage he feels. Right now, it should be directed at the dying of the light.

Goals: Sheringham (15) 0-1; Ferdinand (37) 0-2.

GEORGIA (3-5-2): Zoidze; Lobjanidze (Dynamo Tbilisi, capt), Tskhadadze (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shelia (Alania Vladikavkaz); Gogichaishvili (Dynamo Tbilisi), Nemsadze (Trabzonspor), Kinkladze (Manchester City), Jamarauli, Kobiashvili (Dynamo Tbilisi); Ketsbaia (AEK Athens), Arveladze (Trabzonspor). Substitutes: Ghudushauri (Salmrohr) for Kobiashvili, 67; Gogrichiani (Zhemchuzhina Sochi) for Arveladze, 52.

ENGLAND (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Campbell (Tottenham), Adams (Arsenal, capt), Southgate (Aston Villa); Beckham (Manchester United), Batty (Newcastle), Gascoigne (Rangers), Ince (Internazionale), Hinchcliffe (Everton); Sheringham (Tottenham), Ferdinand (Newcastle). Substitute: Wright (Arsenal) for Ferdinand, 81.

Referee: J C Monteiro (Portugal).

Booking: England: Beckham.

Man of the match: Batty. Attendance: 48,000.