Football: Robson ready for Gazza 'grief'

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The Independent Online
THE Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, joked yesterday that he is expecting "some grief" from his new pounds 3.45m signing Paul Gascoigne.

But he added that although Gascoigne would be the centre of media attention he would still be worth every penny of his transfer fee. "There will be certain people looking for knocking stories. But these incidents are few and far between these days," Robson said. "I am sure Gazza will give me a little bit of grief from time to time but it will be worth it.

"It is the media who expect trouble, not me. I believe Gascoigne will respect me as a manager and I will respect him as a player."

And Robson believes that Gascoigne has now matured and will be looking to the midfielder to inspire his younger players. Robson said: "When a player reaches the age of 30, he becomes aware of the fact that he is in the second part of his career. He wants to work hard to make sure that he plays on as long as possible. Gazza loves his football and our fans will love him.

"Paul likes a few pints now and again, but he is one of the hardest trainers I have ever worked with. The other players will see how hard he works and it will be a big influence."

Gascoigne will be named in Middlesbrough's squad for the Coca-Cola Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday if he passes his medical. If the medical tests are positive, Boro plan to unveil Gascoigne at a news conference today.

Supporters gathered outside Middlesbrough's training ground in the picturesque village of Hurworth to catch a glimpse of Britain's most famous footballer - but, like the press, they were banned from watching him train and banned from talking to him.

They were also quite comfortably outnumbered by the crows in the wood outside the main entrance.

Gazzamania? Well, not quite. One flat-capped pensioner did turn up with his bulldog on a lead, swearing he had changed its name to Gazza after hearing the news that Gascoigne had joined Middlesbrough from Rangers.

While Gazza may have lost some of his pace on the pitch these days, he showed a pretty fair turn of speed as he arrived for his first training session with his new team-mates. At 10.15 his Range-Rover sent 30 or so photographers scattering as it roared through the main entrance of the training ground, with Gascoigne himself at the wheel and his minder, Jimmy "Five Bellies" Gardiner, sprawled across the passenger seat. There was neither a wave, nor a hint of smile. Maybe at 30 this is a new mature Gazza after all.

The mood among the fans, was upbeat. The hope for them is that he contributes as much to the team as Juninho - the little Brazilian whose brilliant performances graced the Riverside Stadium last season.

Among today's sprinkling of fans was the Middlesbrough Supporters' Association secretary, Simon Bolton, though it should be said he was ferried the 15 miles from Middlesbrough to Hurworth in a taxi supplied by Sky television, after they became desperate for someone to talk to. Bolton, the man who looks uncannily like "Five Bellies", had been woken up this morning by Rangers fans, sad at the loss of Gascoigne.

"I can understand them being a bit upset. Gazza is a hero to them," Bolton said. "He is one of the best-known names in football. It was a big surprise when they heard he'd joined, but as long as he puts in 100 per cent like Juninho, he will have the fans' respect. But they won't put up with anyone freeloading here."

Gascoigne could make an immediate return to Ibrox at the end of next month in a testimonial for the veteran Rangers midfielder Ian Durrant.

At the moment the biggest selling point of the testimonial, which will be against Sheffield Wednesday on 28 April, is the return of the former Celtic forward Paolo Di Canio to Glasgow.

However, Gascoigne yesterday indicated he might offer to turn out in the match, as he regrets having left Rangers without having had the chance to bid farewell to his colleagues and the club's fans.

He told Virgin Radio: "Leaving Rangers was one of the saddest days in my career, but now I'm looking forward to my new challenge. I have the chance to work with Bryan Robson, who was my idol when he used to play.

"Yet I'm sad to be leaving Rangers especially, as I never had the chance to say goodbye to the guys. But hopefully I can, as Ian Durrant has a testimonial coming up and I would like to say goodbye to the fans properly."

The main stumbling block could be Middlesbrough's promotion ambitions, with the match coming the week before their final League game of the season against Oxford.