FOOTBALL: Hoddle takes Gascoigne under his wing

FA gives England coach full backing for decision made `from the heart' while controversial Arsenal pair are recalled
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No one can say Glenn Hoddle shirks a challenge. As if attempting to guide England to their first World Cup success on foreign fields were not enough, he yesterday took responsibility for what many would say was an even more daunting task - reforming Paul Gascoigne.

The England coach included Gascoigne in his squad to play Georgia in Tbilisi next Saturday despite widespread calls for him to be omitted after allegations that he had battered his wife, Sheryl. The subsequent reaction - those protests were renewed - overshadowed the recall of two men with chequered pasts themselves, Tony Adams and Ian Wright, who replace the injured Gary Pallister and Alan Shearer.

Picking Gascoigne was, said Hoddle, a decision made by his heart rather than his head but he believed the 29-year-old was capable of change. In an impressive display at a packed West London press conference the 39- year-old argued that the decision, taken after extensive talks with Gascoigne, was consistent with, not contrary to, his Christian beliefs.

In an earlier statement the Football Association made it clear that Gascoigne's inclusion was Hoddle's decision and that they supported it.

It is, as Hoddle said, the tougher of the two choices. "The easy one," Hoddle said, "would have been to cast him out. People talk about making an example of him and that would have been the quick example. This is the chance to make an example of him in the long term. What a great example to youngsters it would be if he can change, like Paul Merson has, off the back of some of the mistakes he has made.

"If we can make him into a role model, that is more positive than casting him out. I honestly believe he is capable of change. This has come from the heart - my head, without knowing the details, told me `no, cast him out'. I now know the details, I've seen the reaction from Paul, and I'm saying `yes'."

Hoddle also made an implied criticism, though not necessarily an intended one, of both his predecessor with England, Terry Venables, and Gascoigne's manager at Rangers, Walter Smith.

"I have always felt he needed help. If I had bought him for Chelsea two years ago [when he joined Rangers] these things might have been discussed then, but they weren't. I don't condone for one minute what Paul has done, but I want to give him an opportunity, that is why I have stepped in and made it a personal thing. I made mistakes when I was a kid, others have, Paul Merson has. Paul [Merson] is a good example. He is not over his problem yet but he is well down the road. I do not think he would be in such a good state of mind if the FA had flung him out. There is a lesson there.

"I am sure he and Tony Adams [another recovering alcoholic and convicted drunk-driver] will have a chat to Paul [Gascoigne] in Georgia. Sometimes life is about learning from your mistakes. Paul now has the chance to do that.

"If Joe Public had done the same as Paul, and there was no police involved, he would not have got the sack."

Hoddle has made the right decision. Where others might have indulged or dismissed Gascoigne rather than face the problem, Hoddle is happy with the pastoral side of his job. Many years of thinking deeply about his own beliefs have left him better equipped to discuss such matters than most managers.

Hoddle refused to admit this was Gascoigne's "last chance" but it probably is. If he abuses Hoddle's tolerance this time his international career will probably be over. As it is, he may not play next week. Georgia will be tough opposition in their own, newly independent, country. They are packed with good technical players and England will not be able to afford to waste possession the way Gascoigne has been doing. A midfield trio of Paul Ince, David Batty and David Beckham looks more solid.

Ahead of them Shearer's place is likely to go to Robbie Fowler rather than Wright, but it is still a remarkable recall for the Arsenal striker. Now 32, he has not been involved with England since February 1995 and won the last of his 16 caps two years ago. He has rarely played well for England but neither has he been given a decent run.

"I can't comment on how he was handled in the past but he is back to his very best," Hoddle said. "It is not about age. If he maintains his form he could still be about come the World Cup."

Wright can also help Gascoigne reform. Though perpetually in trouble with the FA, he no longer has problems off the pitch. Yet he once went to jail himself and, while it was only five days for the non-payment of fines, the shock was enough to make him reform his lifestyle.

Hoddle reconciled his decision on Gascoigne to his beliefs by adding: "One of the pivotal principles Jesus spoke about was forgiveness. I don't condone what Paul has done but he can change. A few people have - Saul was one of them."

For those not au fait with their Bible this refers not to Frank Saul, the former QPR striker, but to Saul, the persecutor of the early Christians who saw the light on the road to Damascus and became Saint Paul.

Tbilisi is not quite en route to Damascus but at least Gascoigne will be accompanied by three wise men - Keith Wiseman, the chairman of the FA, international committee member Jack Wiseman, and Hoddle himself.

HODDLE'S STATEMENT

Over the past fortnight, it's widely known I've been assessing the problems of Paul Gascoigne and his family.

Paul and myself have met three times during that period and spoken in depth.

In addition, Paul has attended counselling on several occasions. I was with him on one occasion. Sometimes the meetings lasted as long as five hours. Paul and I have also spent long periods talking on the phone.

I believe I now have a clear understanding of the problems he and his family are experiencing, and that he has sometimes taken with him on to the pitch. Much of what I have learnt has to remain private. I am aware of much that is not - and should not - be public knowledge.

My first concern two weeks ago was for Paul and his family. I have been deeply impressed by his determination to address his problems and the progress that he has already made. I believe that with my help and that of counselling, we can guide and help both him and his family to go further. I will certainly do everything I can for them.

My assessment is that Paul should be in my squad for the Georgia game on merit.

At no time have I - or would I - condone what Paul has done. I expect high standards. I also accept that people are human. When they have a problem, each case has to be assessed on its merits. In this case Paul and his family need immediate help and support. Paul knows he has to change in the long term. My aim is to do nothing in the short term that might turn out to be unhelpful in the future.

What I'm announcing today is my decision. I'm grateful for the support of the FA chairman and chief executive with whom I've consulted regularly in recent days.

Everyone's ambition now is to get the result we want in Georgia.

FA'S STATEMENT

The England coach, Glenn Hoddle, has fully considered all the circumstances surrounding Paul Gascoigne's problems in consultation with the FA chairman, Keith Wiseman, and the chief executive, Graham Kelly.

Glenn's decision, totally endorsed by us, is that Paul should be included in the England squad for next week's visit to Georgia.

Glenn has rejected the easy option. He personally believes he can guide, and - with counselling - help Paul Gascoigne and his family with their current deep-rooted problems. Crucially, he believes he must waste no time in doing so.

The Football Association, as is our responsibility, has considered the interests of the game as a whole. We have some knowledge of private and very personal matters that relate to the situation of Paul Gascoigne and his family. Clearly we cannot discuss them. But again we too have chosen not to take the easy option.

The chairman and the chief executive have been convinced that Glenn's judgement is absolutely the right one given the facts he has been made aware of.

We don't condone unacceptable personal behaviour. We condemn it. We expect high standards. We also have to accept that people are human, and that when problems arise, each must be assessed on its merits.

We are fortunate to have at the top of our game many excellent role models. Their standards are those we expect all our players to aspire to.

ENGLAND SQUAD

Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Tottenham), James (Liverpool); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Hinchcliffe (Everton), Southgate (Aston Villa), Adams (Arsenal), Campbell (Tottenham), Matteo (Liverpool), Ince (Internazionale), Gascoigne (Rangers), Beckham (Manchester Utd), McManaman (Liverpool), Platt (Arsenal), Batty (Newcastle), Le Tissier (Southampton), Barmby (Everton), Ferdinand (Newcastle), Sheringham (Tottenham), Fowler (Liverpool), I Wright (Arsenal), Merson (Arsenal).

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