Gascoigne a cut above the rest

Ibrox International Tournament: Returning hero shows the good, bad and ugly side of his game as he rebuilds career
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The Independent Online
HIS first Ibrox controversy and, within another two minutes, his first Ibrox goal: the multi-faceted phenomenon that is Gazza has really arrived in Glasgow.

On his competitive debut, providing you regard Rangers' International Tournament as competitive in the fullest sense - something which the rows of empty seats suggested many Glaswegians did not - there were enough flashes of the best and worst of Paul Gascoigne to prove that his return to British football is unlikely to be dull.

In Rangers' 4-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest, Gascoigne's was a performance very much in line with his latest haircut: vivid, idiosyncratic and short. You could have added ugly to that checklist in the 42nd minute when Gascoigne was fortunate to escape punishment for appearing to lash out at the Steaua midfielder Damian Militaru.

Gascoigne had gone in hard and when the grounded Romanian flicked out with a boot in retaliation, he seemed to get one back in the face for his trouble. Worrying reports had filtered back from Rangers' pre-season friendlies in Denmark that Gascoigne's short fuse was already spluttering ominously; here they seemed all too accurate.

In more competitive games, Gascoigne will suffer worse indignities and he needs to dilute his permanent sense of grievance if he is to survive. His first appearance before the Ibrox fans - or those willing to start their expensive season in July - was more memorable for the good than the dubious, however.

The goal that followed 90 seconds after the altercation was a simple tap-in and hardly representative of his best and most ambitious work of the afternoon, but it was an example of the instant understanding between him and Rangers' resident maestro, Brian Laudrup, that sparked frequently in the first 15 minutes. Even if it is true that Laudrup not only speaks the better Italian but also the better English, there was no communication barrier between these two, even at this early stage in their acquaintance.

That first quarter of an hour, in fact, was nothing less than a virtuoso display from Gascoigne, who showed an immediate rapport not only with Laudrup but also with Stephen Wright, Rangers' other mid-summer signing and one of two wing-backs in a new system that seemed tailor-made for Gascoigne to flourish.

The former Lazio player was also winning the ball before spraying it around and although only sparingly did he use his ability to panic defences by running at them, one shimmy down the left side of the penalty area, culminating in a rather weak shot, almost brought the house down.

It was a level of involvement that could not be sustained and Gascoigne was never quite so dazzling again, but it was still a surprise that Rangers' first goal, after 26 minutes, owed nothing to the panache he had brought to their midfield and everything to more direct methods. Richard Gough's free-kick was won by Mark Hateley and the promising Charlie Miller steered the ball through for Ian Ferguson to finish powerfully. Gascoigne's goal before half-time effectively settled the game and then, eight minutes after the break, a stunning Laudrup cross was duly headed in by Hateley.

A glorious sweeping move releasing Miller and Laudrup was Gascoigne's last contribution before being given, along with Laudrup, the first use of the home changing-room showers. "He just needs to calm down a bit," they were saying in the Waddell Suite about a memorable debut. "Aye, but you don't want him to calm down too much."

They have already defined the Gascoigne balancing act clearly enough in Glasgow. They were happy with what they had seen and even happier when Laudrup's prolific replacement, Ally McCoist, made it four with seven minutes to play.

The conclusion, though, was that at a club willing to gear its playing style to his particular virtues and vices, Gascoigne's homecoming could be mutually rewarding. If the axis between him and the equally gifted Laudrup matures as it should, the prospects at Ibrox this season are mouth- watering.

Rangers will play Sampdoria in today's final, after the Italians outplayed Tottenham Hotspur to win 2-0. Enrico Chiesa, from a pass by the impressive newcomer Clarence Seedorf, and Philippo Maniero scored Sampdoria's goals in the first half and Spurs, without the injured Chris Armstrong and Teddy Sheringham, were rarely in the game.

The Sampdoria coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, is in no doubt where the major threat this afternoon will come from. "It was lovely to see Gascoigne playing and fit again. When he is physically OK he is a great player," he said. "He will make it very difficult for us."

Rangers: Goram; Wright, Robertson, Gough, McLaren, Reid, Miller, Gascoigne (Durrant, 71), Ferguson (Cleland, 84), Hateley, Laudrup (McCoist, 71).

Steaua Bucharest: Stelea, Panait, Firvu, Dobos, Galca (Bucur, 71, Prodan, Lacatus, Militaru, Vladoiu, Ilie (Rosu, 58), Duna (Stan, 58).

Referee: K Clark (Paisley).

Tottenham Hotspur: Walker; Campbell, Edinburgh, Howells (Caskey, 64), Calderwood, Mabbutt, Barmby, Dumitrescu (Turner, h-t), Anderton, McMahon (Kerslake, 61), Rosenthal.

Sampdoria: Zenga, Balleri, Sacchetti, Franceschetti, Manninni, Seedorf (Evani, 67), Chiesa, Karembeu, Maniero (Bellucci, 58), Mancini (Salsano, 73), Mihajlovic.

Referee: W Young (Clarkston).

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