Football: Slimline Gascoigne steals the show, again: He is not playing tonight, but the Lazio midfielder is in fine form. Joe Lovejoy reports

Click to follow
GRAHAM TAYLOR must have known what he was letting himself in for, and sure enough Gazza stole the show.

England's best footballer is here only as a spectator, a thigh injury having postponed his comeback until the end of the month, but his charisma, personality - call it what you will - ensured that the Paul Gascoigne press conference, rather than Taylor's, was the media event of the day. As ever, the Great Showman was good value, talking of tears and patriotism, Guinness and digestives.

Looking bronzed and lean ('So would you be, training twice a day') he held his audience spellbound, punctuating the emotion with enough of that Beadle-esque humour to prevent the conversation from becoming too maudlin.

The wounded knee which has kept him out of action these last 16 months was now 'perfect', he said, but he was unable to bend the leg (the right one) to the normal extent, and in compensating for what he insisted was an inconsequential handicap, he strained the thigh.

'My general fitness is fine,' he said. 'I run round the pitch 25 times in the morning, no problem, but I'm having a bit of trouble with the thigh, and I'm not kicking with my right foot at the moment.'

He expects to make his debut for Lazio in a friendly against his old club, Tottenham, on 23 September, and his first appearance in the Italian league against Genoa, four days later.

Meantime, he cannot bear to watch his new team, and missed Sunday's 3-3 draw with Sampdoria. 'If I'm injured and not playing, I get too upset just watching,' he explained.

What had he done instead at the weekend - the shopping?

'Something like that,' he said, with a conspiratorial wink which confirmed there were more exciting ways for a young man to enjoy himself in the eternal city.

When he does get around to the shopping, his tastes have not changed much - despite that shrinking waistline. Four bottles of Guinness and a packet of digestive biscuits were an unexpected find in the marketplace - irresistible for a midnight feast.

He had also invested in a phrasebook, with rewarding results. A barking dog, keeping him awake, was stilled instantly with the command 'Silenzio]'

Was Italy changing him? 'Colourwise, yes, but I still play with a smile on my face.'

There has not been too much to smile about of late and a great deal of the other thing - more of those tears that touched the nation's heart during Italia '90.

'We all make mistakes,' he said, 'and when I was down I put on a video of my games for England and got myself really upset. When I watched David Platt's goal against Belgium in the World Cup I got a big lump in my throat, and the next day I wanted to smash the manager's door down and tell him I had to play.

'Deep down, though, I know I can't. I'm not ready yet, and I certainly wasn't anywhere near fit enough to play in the European Championships. I thought I could at the time, but I was wrong.'

There was no trace of apprehension - no fears that the knee might let him down. 'I'm looking forward to the first tackle - just as long as it's not Stuart Pearce.'

Gazza was back and more than welcome. Taylor said: 'We all know Paul's personality, and it's good to have him around.'

For once, no one was inclined to argue.