Football: Keegan plea for Gazza magic

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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN, despairing of the absence of a creative force in England's midfield, has laid down a challenge to the forgotten maestro Paul Gascoigne. In essence it is: "Get yourself fit and force me to play you."

So crucial is England's game in Poland on 8 September - victory almost certainly meaning Keegan's team reach the play-offs - that the head coach will contemplate all possibilities, even the resurrection of the Middlesbrough player who, this season, has attended a clinic for treatment to conquer alcohol abuse but only recently is reported to have gone on a binge in the Algarve.

"You tell me where you can find any really adventurous midfield players who can change a game in a moment or make a goal from nothing?" Keegan asked last night. "I am not being unkind to the midfield players I have got. We have some good young players. But they do not have those sort of strengths. That is the reason why we are talking about Paul Gascoigne now."

West Ham's Joe Cole appears certain to provide that missing ingredient, eventually. But he is only 17 and Keegan admitted: "He is a possibility, but he is likely to take two or three years to come through rather than two or three months."

The coach added: "We do need a bit off magic now and then. That sprinkle of stardust where one player goes past another and takes on the defence. After him, it is difficult to come up with another name which is why we may have to look at playing another way. The onus is on Paul Gascoigne to force me to put him in. I just couldn't pick him for this squad because he has hardly played since Christmas, but I am hoping he will do enough in the summer.

"There just aren't many like him. Look at [Hristo] Stoichkov. He can suddenly produce a bit of magic from time to time and there was no doubt for 60 minutes against us he did well. You can only hope and pray that Paul is thinking what I am thinking that, 'Hold on, I am the one player who can be really useful to England'."

Hitherto, Keegan has resolutely refused to consider the question of England not qualifying. Now, there is no avoiding the issue. "Of course I am staying on if we don't qualify for Euro 2000," he declared. "I would like to try to see it through, but if the FA have a different view two years down the line and I am not allowed to, that is a different thing."

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