Gascoigne enters the confessional

INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL: Troubled England midfielder reveals `the rage inside' that has driven him to seek counselling
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The Independent Online
Paul Gascoigne faced a few more of his demons yesterday: 20 newspaper reporters, two radio stations, and more television channels than most people can receive.

A confessional press conference after England's first day of training for Saturday's World Cup tie in Georgia was another small step on Gascoigne's road to redemption.

It followed a backwards move at the weekend, when Gascoigne lost much of the residual sympathy there is for him by "looking deep into his tortured soul" exclusively for the News of the World. There was, the newspaper announced, no fee - yet neither was there any mention of a contribution to charities supporting battered wives' refuges.

Representatives of the 40 million-plus Britons who do not read the Sunday tabloid were told yesterday that Gascoigne regretted "the thing that happened with my wife". He regretted "it" five times, but he could not quite bring himself to use the words "wife-beating".

Glenn Hoddle could. Stung by suggestions that by picking Gascoigne he had condoned the practice, he responded: "This does not send a message out that I am backing wife-beaters, that I condone everything he has done. I am trying to ensure he never does it again."

The England coach "rode shotgun" alongside Gascoigne in Bisham Abbey's wood- panelled Elizabethan Room yesterday. Portraits of Charles II and his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, stared down from the walls flanked by the phalanx of TV crews.

Gascoigne looked stern when he entered, but gradually relaxed, even slipping in a couple of his deadpan jokes by the end of the 30-minute session.

"It has been a shaky weekend, but I'm pleased to be back in the squad. I could have been kicked out on my backside," he said. "I can't describe the rage inside, but I am getting counselling for it. I am getting two types of counselling: one is personal, one is with my wife.

"What happened with my wife I deeply regret and that will live with me forever. I don't blame the likes of the women's rights for wanting me to be kicked out of the squad. They had a right to say that and I have to live with that.

"It is hard to meet up with a stranger and talk about my problems, but I feel a better person for it already. People at the club [Rangers], the players here, have noticed it. It is helping me relax with opponents and referees.

"I'm under pressure a lot more than other players and have been so for about five to six years. I have just let everything bottle up inside me instead of coming out with things. The thing with my wife was my last straw and now I've started to sort it out and I'm really pleased.

"Tony [Adams] and Paul [Merson - both recovering alcoholics] have said that coming out and talking about it helps. I reached the decision [to have counselling] because of what I did. I just could not believe that was me the following morning. I just had to get it sorted out.

"In the past I've done things which I've regretted, but I've tried to hide that by joking and pretending I didn't regret them. I want to think about things before I do them now. I want to be accepted as Paul Gascoigne the person as well as Paul Gascoigne the footballer. I only have five years left as a footballer, then it is just Paul Gascoigne the person."

He denied that alcohol was at the root of his problems. "I can still have a drink," he said. "It is controlled, like when I'm out at a restaurant."

One hopes he knows what he is doing. It was after an afternoon at a restaurant, in Scotland's Gleneagles Hotel, that Gascoigne committed the assault on his wife, Sheryl, which left her with facial bruises and dislocated fingers.

Gascoigne, who had further counselling on Sunday, added: "In the past, I seemed to hate everybody for no apparent reason. That is one thing I am getting rid of, when I go on the pitch. I want it to be with a controlled aggression."

Whether he gets on the pitch on Saturday is another matter. Hoddle admitted he might be left out and said: "It would be a slight test for him, not one he would want, but maybe a test he needs.

"He's not hiding from it anymore. He will be judged further down the line - anyone can change for two weeks. I'm looking at 12 months, but he is already facing up to a lot of the issues which he has never done before.

"He is in the squad as part of the overall package. It is partly to help him to become a better player in the long term, but also to deal with these issues. I do not think leaving him out would have helped him or his family life."

Hoddle, who gave Adams permission to leave the camp for counselling on his drink problem yesterday, added: "I'm not an agony aunt. This is part of man management, looking at a player as a person, not just a player. I've always had that philosophy.

"In many ways, Paul is hitting his prime. If he can get his personal life together we could see a Paul Gascoigne nobody has seen yet. That would be fantastic. He will have to adjust his game. There are moments of magic he can still conjure up, and although they might be less frequent, he can be part of the jigsaw in many other ways."

It took an Italian journalist to raise the conundrum: "If he becomes an ordinary person, will he also become an ordinary footballer?"

One thought of Eric Cantona as Hoddle replied: "I don't know. We do not have a crystal ball to look into. Paul has been given a gift from an early age - many things have clogged him. If we can release them, he could yet show that there is a another Paul Gascoigne even [better] than in his heyday at Tottenham."

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