Football: Taylor ponders his tactics for Gascoigne

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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE will return to the England team in their World Cup qualifying match against Norway at Wembley next Wednesday. Yesterday Graham Taylor said that could be assumed, but he would not say whether 'Gazza' would play from the beginning or be brought on later. The dilemma emphasises England's poverty of alternative talent.

Although Taylor has almost everyone he wanted training at Bisham Abbey this weekend, he knows that the only player of truly unusual ability is Gascoigne, who has not appeared in an England shirt for the best part of two years. Gascoigne has now played three times in competitive games for Lazio and seems almost fully recovered from the knee injury that threatened his career.

The question confronting Taylor is not so much one concerning fitness but expectancy. England have no one else capable of elevating them from being a team likely to find countries like Norway a serious problem to becoming one with a jewel of a player in midfield and significantly improved prospects in the forthcoming World Cup.

Taylor has to face two problems. If he plays Gascoigne from the beginning, he has to think in terms of a '12-man side' because, he admits, 'there is no way I can see the fellow playing 90 minutes'. If he elects to keep Gascoigne on the bench at the start, he risks the possibility of the currently free-scoring Norwegians taking a damaging lead and having the crowd expect Gascoigne to come on and act as the heroic lifeboatman.

There is nothing Gascoigne would like better than the latter option, but it could all go horribly wrong for Taylor who probably feels he is being drawn into 'Gazzamania'. He admitted yesterday: 'The clamour to play him will be there from the start.' Among those who have joined that clamour are Gascoigne's coach at Lazio, Dino Zoff, who is all against bringing him on after the match has taken shape. The nearest Taylor gave to a hint about his intentions was his comment that Gascoigne was 'unlikely to finish the game'.

After training, Gascoigne was as effervescent as ever and his reported 'maturity' gets more convincing. He said all the right things about simply being pleased to be a squad member. 'I know I need more matches and it wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't play on Wednesday.' That, according to Taylor, is not an option. Indeed, Gascoigne is already acting as team spokesman, a task the captain, Stuart Pearce, would happily forgo. Yesterday Gascoigne's voice was echoing round the old walls of Bisham Abbey, telling everyone that the Norwegian manager had given England their biggest boost by suggesting that at Wembley these days there is not a lot to beat.

The fact that, apart from Trevor Steven's withdrawal yesterday, Taylor has at last managed to gather together a squad of his original choice is a two-edged comfort. Should the team he selects for Wednesday's match fail to win he will have no ready-made excuse. 'Whatever happens,' he said, 'the fact is there are nine other games. If we win, are people going to have us already qualified? In '82 we lost three qualifying games and still qualified. If we lose this one and all hell breaks loose, that doesn't mean we don't qualify. I'm excited by having Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, there's a freshness about that. We're making a fresh start.'

In fact the only freshness is the possibility that Gascoigne may return as an extraordinarily talented player now more responsible. The rest of the squad contains only two uncapped players, Richard Jobson, who is unlikely to be preferred to Gary Pallister in the middle of the defence, and Garry Parker, of Aston Villa, who has been brought in to replace Steven. The rest are familiar - the sort of players who after the last match against Spain persuaded that country's manager to remark: 'It is not difficult to defend against opponents who are using the same tactics all the time.' Taylor has no better reason to be more desperate than he admits to seeing Gascoigne in England's starting line-up on Wednesday.

Kevin Moran, the 36-year-old Blackburn Rovers defender, and Newcastle's Liam O'Brien have been drafted into the Republic of Ireland squad for Wednesday's World Cup qualifying game against Denmark, the European champions, in Copenhagen. Five members of the original selection have withdrawn through injury - strikers John Byrne and Bernie Slaven, defenders Mick McCarthy and Paul McGrath, and midfielder Ronnie Whelan. Paul Bodin, the Swindon full-back, damaged knee ligaments during yesterday's First Division game against Portsmouth and has pulled out of the Wales squad for the game with Cyprus in Limassol. Meanwhile, Scotland's squad for the fixture against Portugal at Ibrox has been augmented by Rangers' 29-year-old defender, John Brown.