Gascoigne sheds alter ego instead of tears

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Paul Gascoigne, so often the cause of anguish among coaches and spectators, was the pivotal figure in England's success.

A new, mature Gazza looks here to stay, as Glenn Moore discovered in Rome.

Whisper it quietly, but it seems increasingly possible that Gazza may be retired by the time England compete in next year's World Cup. In his place will be Paul Gascoigne, whose gradual reclamation of their shared body took another significant step on Saturday night.

In the city where Gazza reached his unsavoury peak, Gascoigne produced a controlled performance of modern midfield play. "From the start I knew I could keep the ball and pass it and get everyone involved," he said.

Gascoigne revealed that the advice he received from Terry Venables, and then Glenn Hoddle had finally sunk in, helped by a pointed comment from his club manager at Rangers, Walter Smith.

"I was out the papers for a while and then I got into trouble and he actually pulled me aside and said `Do you love being in the papers, being in trouble?'

"I actually looked at myself and thought `No - so why do you do it?'

"Off the field, all right I might misbehave now and again; maybe that's in Paul Gascoigne and where I come from. But if on the pitch I can now show the kids what I can do and what they can do, then hopefully England can be as good as we are now."

"When I was their age I had Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson, John Barnes, Chris Waddle, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, Peter Beardsley - they brought me through and I learned from them. I only hope that these young kids can learn from me.

"Next year they will be a year older - I wish I could be a year younger - but if I keep my fitness then hopefully we can all have a nice time at the World Cup."

"If Glenn Hoddle honestly thinks other players are better than me to fill my place then I will wish them good luck, because it's a great tournament.

"If I make the World Cup, then I make it. If I don't, I don't. What was important for me was to leave Italy this time on a good night. Next time I come to Italy I can walk with my chest out and I can be proud."

Last week Paolo Maldini suggested that if Gascoigne returned to Rome seeking to impress, to reward the Lazio fans who loved him, and counter those Italians who derided him, he would be playing into Italy's hands. But, added the Italian captain, if he played in a controlled manner, using the talent he has wisely, he would give Italy problems.

To watch Gascoigne on Saturday night was to wonder if he had read Maldini's words and learned them by rote. More likely is that Maldini is as good a reader of Gascoigne's character as Hoddle appears to be, for that is what the England coach has been drumming into his wayward genius for months.

In Rome, Gascoigne was rewarded for his patience and attention with a first-half performance Hoddle described as "magnificent".

"They couldn't get near him," Hoddle said. "He is playing the game differently, the penny has dropped."

Gascoigne's answer to the Italians was to give them a taste of their own medicine. "We played the Italians at their own game," he said. "They are very good at diving, cheating, trying to waste time. We knew if they got a goal they would do that. So we started kicking the ball away, letting them chase it and it was great to see them running after the ball.

"They were desperate. Some of the lads stayed down when they weren't hurt and it got the fans throwing bottles and coins on the pitch which was good for us because it wasted even more time!

"I said to Ian Wright `I'm pleased you didn't score'. I know it's not a good thing to say, but it sickens them even more that it was 0-0 and not 1-0."

Gascoigne did spare a thought for Wright, however, when he added. "I hope that if I don't get to the World Cup that Ian does, partly because he is a friend, but also because I have never seen anyone as sad and gutted as when he missed the European Championship. To pick himself up and play for Arsenal the way he has this season, breaking Cliff Bastin's record, and to perform like he has for England, then that man deserves it.

"He ran and ran and he nearly scored at the end. He had a few tears but there was no way I was going to join him - I've had my time in that.

"My career has been great. I've had my regrets, I've had my good times. My regrets are the stupid things I used to do. My bad times were my broken leg and my ligaments and knee caps. I could carry on - there are loads of them."

Gascoigne appeared to be making the same effort to be in control when talking to the media as he was in the match, but he relaxed enough to joke about his prospects of being in next summer's World Cup squad "I kill him [Hoddle] if I don't get there".

The only man in the squad with World Cup experience, he added: "If we don't think we can go and win the World Cup, it's a waste of time qualifying. I'd like to think we can go and win it. All these young lads are going to be a year older and can make us proud of being English again."