James Lawton: Gascoigne career slides into poignant parody

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The Independent Online

Diego Maradona's Last Hurrah was, naturally, accompanied by many tears, not least those shed by the fallen superstar himself. No less predictable was the moisture that came to Paul Gascoigne's eyes on his latest television appearance, on the Frank Skinner show at the weekend. The emotion-racked images of both men were inevitably a reminder of the fears of Terry Venables, who managed both players, Maradona at Barcelona and Gascoigne at Spurs.

"Sometimes," said Venables when Gazza was lurching off the rails at White Hart Lane, "I look into his face and I am reminded of Maradona. I fear that he will go the same way, and it is heart-breaking because both men have been given the gift of glorious talent."

The extent of Gazza's gifts could only be remembered poignantly as England strived so unavailingly to break down the scrupulously arranged defence of Sweden. If there was a man to break open tactical stalemate it was Gascoigne with his touch, his vision, and, ironically enough when you consider the wreckage of his career, his sheer football intelligence. Only heaven knows what he might have achieved had he got on with the game for which he was born rather than the distractions of celebrity.

His show business friend Skinner grilled him lightly enough on the disastrous course of his career, showing again the great aberrations: the tear-filled anticlimax of his World Cup campaign, the manic tackles which disfigured his FA Cup appearance for Spurs and basically wrecked his career, the burp into an Italian microphone and the celebration of his superb goal against Scotland, which, who could forget, involved Gascoigne falling on his back and gesturing for injections of alcohol. Some joke, that. Before a duet of "I Did It My Way", Skinner prised from Gascoigne the story of how he filled mince pies with cat excrement and fed them to two of his friends. This caused much mirth in the studio and, when the tears flowed, as you knew they would, they were not about the terrible waste of his talent but the pain he felt when his England manager, Glenn Hoddle, finally bowed to reality and sent him home just before the start of the 1998 World Cup.

It was a sad business and it provoked another memory. It was of another chat show appearance in the wake of Gascoigne's return from the 1990 World Cup. Gazza arrived for the Terry Wogan show in the boot of a car. He complained of the pressure he felt from the game, which had led him to miss training sessions with Tottenham. At the time he was deeply involved in advertising promotions and was making the aptly titled pop video, "Fog on the Tyne". The avuncular Wogan, who once allowed George Best to totter out of the BBC hospitality room and make a desperate show of himself on national TV, offered the young star some deathless advice. "Forget about your critics, Gazza," said Wogan, "and make as much money as you can – while you can."

We didn't see much of a superlative football talent after that. Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised.

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