Gascoigne testing Rangers' patience

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Paul Gascoigne has been disciplined by Rangers after his sending-off against Ajax in the Champions' League - but the club yesterday refused to elaborate on what form the punishment would take. He will, however, be staying with them, they added in a show of qualified support; a little stick but more carrot.

The morning after the night before, Gascoigne returned from Amsterdam to vilification for his rash act of folly that led to dismissal from the Champions' League match, which all but ended Rangers' hopes of avoiding defeat and almost certainly their hopes of progressing in the competition. In addition, he was confronted by newspaper pictures of his bruised wife, Sheryl, left arm in a sling, her injuries allegedly sustained in a dispute between the two last Sunday.

The Rangers manager, Walter Smith, clearly upset by Wednesday night's events which also angered some of the players, summoned Gascoigne to talks at Ibrox yesterday morning amid speculation that he might have played his last game for the club. Instead, Rangers were in forgiving mood and Gascoigne himself was not asking for a transfer, it emerged.

"Paul Gascoigne is a Rangers player and will remain a Rangers' player," said the club's vice-chairman, Donald Findlay, who added - as did the Football Association yesterday - that the player's private life was none of their concern. Rangers would, though, provide guidance if asked, he said.

Uefa is unlikely to be as accommodating as his club. Gascoigne will automatically miss the return match with Ajax in 12 days' time and it may well be that the European game's governing body deems Gascoigne's kicking out at the shins of Winston Bogarde, after the two had collided, as violent conduct. In that case, he could also be ruled out of the final two matches, away to Auxerre and at home to Grasshopper Zurich.

Gascoigne's previous record, which includes another red card against Borussia Dortmund last season, will be also be taken into account. It is one that also concerns Rangers, who will, in addition, be missing Richard Gough, Alex Cleland and Craig Moore through suspension. Late on Wednesday night, Smith sought to rein in his feelings as he talked of being "disappointed that it had happened" and agreeing that "yes, it was a rash moment''.

Yesterday he hinted that his patience was being tested. He would, he said, be considering whether Gascoigne was in the right frame of mind for Saturday's match against Aberdeen. "I will have to talk to him to see if I consider he can handle playing without over-reacting," he said. Ominously, the manager added: "There has to be a limit to anybody's patience. Understanding only goes so far.''

The Rangers players, believed privately to be seething at Gascoigne's recklessness, which came with them 0-1 down on the way to a 1-4 defeat, were less diplomatic. "It was inexcusable. He had to go," said Ally McCoist, watching from the stand.

Gough, the captain, added: "He knows himself as an experienced player he has let his team-mates down. A few of us had a word with him and he knows himself. He is very upset.''

Gascoigne was bought from Lazio for pounds 4.3m with Europe in mind but, apart from occasional highlights, has failed generally to inspire in them any improvement on their previous record - often liability rather than leader - despite his domestic form which last year saw him elected Scottish Footballer of the Year.

Indeed, the more Rangers have spent, the further away they have seemed from realising the ambition of winning the European Cup and emulating their Glasgow rivals, Celtic. Five years ago, they were close to reaching the final, defeated by Marseilles only on away goals. Those matches seem now like mere blue-remembered thrills.

They will now turn their attention towards equalling Celtic's record of nine domestic titles in succession but, while that may be parochial consolation, it hardly compares with the rewards and recognition on offer in the European scheme of things, with which they need to be associated given their size and investment.

There was considerable symbolism in the mauling by Ajax. Not long ago, Rangers boasted in Ibrox a state-of-the-art stadium. Seeing the Amsterdam ArenA, and the darting and flowing home team performing in it, it is clear they have been overtaken off and on the field. Ibrox is not even the best stadium in Glasgow any more.

Now is not the right time to take stock for them, but come season's end they will surely ponder several questions. Is Walter Smith able to attract the best talent to the club or might a more charismatic coaching name do so? And, though he may have been given a stay, will Paul Gascoigne be part of a renewed European campaign?

Turkish delight for Manchester United, page 30