Football: Tottenham and Villa lead chase for pounds 4m Gascoigne

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After his highly acclaimed display for England in Rome last Saturday, Paul Gascoigne may be about to return to English football. Phil Shaw reports on the teams leading the chase.

Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa are vying to bring Paul Gascoigne back to England - with Spurs the favourites to re-sign the Rangers' midfield player for a fee believed to be in the region of pounds 4m.

Sources close to Rangers indicated last night that Gascoigne is prepared to leave the Scottish champions, whom he joined from Lazio for pounds 4.5m in 1995, in order to safeguard his England place in the build-up to next summer's World Cup finals.

Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, is reported to have advised Gascoigne that his preparations for France 98 would be better served away from the Scottish game. Whether or not Hoddle has ventured such counsel, Gascoigne's advisers are reported to be likely to meet Spurs officials for transfer talks within the next 24 hours. Villa, desperate for a playmaker after their disappointing start, have also tabled an offer, increasing the likelihood that Saturday's game against Dunfermline could be the former Newcastle player's last at Ibrox.

A third English club, Everton, are also reported to be interested in Gascoigne, but given their recent inability to persuade big-name players to go to Goodison Park, theirs must be rated an outsider's chance.

Ironically, the news that Gascoigne may be about to return to league football in England came on the night that all three clubs continued their troubled starts to the season by going out of the Coca-Cola Cup. Spurs were beaten 2-1 at home by Derby, Everton thrashed 4-1 at Coventry while Aston Villa were trounced 3-0 at West Ham.

Brian Little, the Villa manager, pronounced himself extremely unhappy with his side's performance at Upton Park. "We've had too many games like that this season," he said. "You can afford the odd game where you don't perform but we've had three or four already and the season's only 12 games old - that's too many.

"They were sharper than us and more competitive. When they got the ball we were too stretched.We were just too predictable and they beat us easily. There's a lot of reasons for it, including confidence but we need to start playing week in-week out."

Tottenham have reached a critical point in their season. They went into last night's Coca-Cola Cup third-round match against Derby on a run of six games that had produced no wins and only one goal. Even the lift of a fine solo strike from David Ginola failed to lift them last night and they lost to two goals from the Costa Rican Paulo Wanchope.

Small beer as the competition might be to club's chasing honours in the Premiership and in European compettion, to Tottenham, and their beleaguered manager, Gerry Francis, it represented the chance of some success to lift the gloom that has settled over White Hart Lane.