Football: Hoddle urged to pick Gascoigne

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HAVING woken up, bleary-eyed according to the second tabloid expose of his enthusiastic socialising inside a week, Paul Gascoigne yesterday received a ringing endorsement of his World Cup prospects from two previous England managers.

Bobby Robson, under whom Gascoigne reached the semi- final of the 1990 World Cup, and Terry Venables, with whom he got to the last four of Euro 96, said they would definitely take Gascoigne to France - and both added a glowing character and footballing reference.

Robson said: "You can't leave him behind because he is the one clever midfield player we have. People like Paul Ince and David Batty are good players but Gascoigne has a special path, the one no one else can see. He can put the ball through the eye of the needle between defenders for the likes of Shearer.

"He also has dribbling ability which can win you free-kicks on the edge of the area and even get opponents sent off, which will be a factor in this World Cup. He goes past people, plays one-twos, and scores goals. You need midfielders who can score goals. Someone like Batty has other qualities but he's not a goalscorer."

This point was echoed by Venables, who said of his former Tottenham protege: "To win the World Cup you must have goalscorers, and he's a matchwinner. We have a world-class striker in Alan Shearer and in Gascoigne we have a midfielder who can score special goals and put fear into the opposition. He's good for the dressing-room. He's not frightened of opponents. He's infectious and he takes people with him."

Robson agreed, adding: "He has such a belief in his ability and that of his team. He's so confident. I remember when we played Germany in 1990 I explained all about Lothar Matthaus. I went into great detail about how he should play against him and when I finished he just said: `You go away and smoke your cigars and leave this game to me.' He was only 21 years old. I'm not saying he's a 90-minute player but, depending on his head and his fitness, he doesn't have to play 90 minutes. He could just give you 65 or 70, he's that priceless."

While Robson clearly had doubts about Gascoigne's fitness, Venables and John Barnes spoke up for that aspect of the Middlesbrough player's game. "He played five games in 12 days in Euro 96, two with extra time, and finished strongly in both," Venables said. "His fitness is very underrated."

Barnes, a former England team-mate, said: "He's the most naturally fit player I've ever met. If he gets his head right, he'll have no problems with his fitness."

That proviso is an important one. Gascoigne's unusual thought processes were further evident yesterday when, in an interview, he said his dream was to see a UFO.

Gascoigne said: "I've read books and magazines, bought videos and everything. They're real, they've got to be. I even think they stop and pull people on board for a couple of hours."

Gascoigne also said, in the interview with Danny Baker, that compared with 1990 there was an element of fear in his approach to this World Cup: "The fear of not doing well yourself. The fear of getting beaten. The fear it's going to be your fault."

Of Gascoigne's personality, Barnes said: "He is compulsive. Half the time he does things he doesn't know why. He's not a scheming type but very generous."

Venables and Robson, who were also speaking at the launch of ITV's World Cup schedule, backed this up. "He's just cheeky, and mischievous," Venables said.

Also at the launch was Kevin Keegan, who backed Alan Shearer's ability to ignore recent criticism when it came to the World Cup.

"He may not be the most talented player this country has ever produced, but he is the most focused and determined player I've ever seen. What happened in the last few weeks won't be a problem for him, but it might be worrying for opponents," Keegan said.

"He [Shearer] might not have been right in time for Newcastle, but he will be for England. With him in the side, a side always has a chance."

Keegan did, however, tip France, the hosts, as the most likely winners.

Deadline day for Foe, page 31

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