Gazza a suitable case for treatment

Ian Ridley says England's errant genius may be facing up to his problems
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The Independent Online
There is a joke among recovering alcoholics that wonders how many counsellors it takes to change a lightbulb. The answer is one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. So it is with Paul Gascoigne - and the signs are, in his decision to seek help by consulting the addiction specialist Beechy Colclough, that he may be ready.

Take your pick of the descriptions: man-child, big girl's blouse, lager- lout icon, wife-beater. And wayward genius. The most naturally talented English footballer of his generation has been offered plenty of judgmental advice over the last fortnight. The opportunites have, after all, been numerous.

There was the television documentary that almost celebrated his oafishness, followed by the accounts of the domestic dispute that left his wife Sheryl bruised and battered. Oh, and two matches - one for country, one for club - in which deficiencies were superseded by disgrace.

These are sports pages and mostly concerned with performance in the arena. When external events combine to influence that, however, as clearly they have done with a Gascoigne who wears his heart on his sleeve and visibly takes his problems on to the pitch - witness the sending-off against Ajax - there is undoubtedly cause for concern and comment.

The former England manager Graham Taylor went as far as he felt able with Gazza, referring to his "refuelling" habits; to go further might have risked the player becoming unwilling to perform for him. Less honest managers than Taylor often refuse even to acknowledge excess either for just such a reason or through lack of knowledge about the problem.

It should not mean that others have to pussyfoot around him. It is to do him, ultimately, a disservice. As Michael Parkinson once bravely admitted in his biography of George Best, he was sometimes among those filling him with vodka and slapping his back, just for the reflected glow of his company, when he would probably have been more of a true friend if he had told him honestly that he had a problem.

It is looking increasingly likely that Gascoigne is similarly afflicted, though it should be no moral evaluation. Drinking and eating disorders are, rather, addictive illnesses, medically recognised. There is too much evidence in his repeated immature behaviour pattern of abuse followed by remorse, to ignore the possibility that it affects Gascoigne - though only he can ultimately decide what to do about it.

One suggestion is that the current England coach Glenn Hoddle should drop him, as punishment both for the indisclipline in Amsterdam and the off-field revelations, from the squad to face Georgia in four weeks' time. It would surely be more beneficial if Hoddle were to take him on the trip, confront him about his behaviour and warn him as to future repercussions. If the incidents with his wife have not sufficiently jolted him into the need for self- examination, then the prospect of his England career ending ignominiously might do so.

It is all very well offering advice, as Hoddle began to do a fortnight ago before the game against Poland when talking of the need for all players, especially ageing and slowing ones, to take care of their bodies. Until Gascoigne himself is able or willing to take notice, it will be wasted breath.

For all his mistrust of the press, he should realise how much of the comment is sympathetic and constructive. All anyone wants, surely, is for a prodigious talent, and worthwhile life, to be fulfilled.

Recent events may have clouded the picture but this is not to do with bad or good, rather sick and well. Gascoigne is, by all accounts, a good person beneath the induced excess; warm and generous, say colleagues. Let us hope that he wants to turn on that light.