After three troubled years in the Eternal City playing for Lazio, Paul Gascoigne arrived in Glasgow yesterday and said Rangers would "put the smile back on my face". The 28-year-old England international returned to British football when he signed a pounds 4.3m contract with the Ibrox club. The three-year deal makes him the most expensive and the highest-paid footballer in the history of the Scottish game.
Some 1,000 fans - many sporting the player's peroxide blonde crew cut - turned out to welcome him. They said Gascoigne would help make Rangers "not only one of Europe's best supported and wealthiest clubs, but also one of the best."
Beset by injury problems in Italy, Gascoigne told a press conference that he felt "very fit" and "couldn't wait" to start playing. His first game - unlikely to be a full 90 minutes - will be against Brondby in a pre-season tournament in Denmark next week. His home debut will come at the Rangers International Tournament on 29 July.
Following speculation that he might make an 11th-hour move to Manchester United, Gascoigne confirmed that he had had talks with several English clubs, but had decided to move north of the border because Rangers was "a massive club with a huge following and a lot of top-class players." The midfielder will play alongside the Danish international Brian Laudrup, the French star Basile Boli and England's Mark Hateley.
"Some great England players have come here in the past like Ray Wilkins, Chris Woods and Terry Butcher. I want to follow in their footsteps," he said. Asked if he would recapture the form he showed in the 1990 World Cup and during his four years at Tottenham, he said: "Yes and more. I've hardly played in the past three years. I still feel 25. I've come here to enjoy my football."
Sitting alongside Gascoigne at Ibrox, the Rangers manager, Walter Smith, struggled to make himself heard above the chants of the fans who had lined the streets outside the stadium. Smith said that he would build a team around Gascoigne, whom he described as "one of the best midfield players in Europe". Compared with the pounds 7m United paid for Andy Cole, or the pounds 8.5m Liverpool put up for Stan Collymore, Smith said that if Gascoigne fulfilled his potential, the record deal could turn out to be the "best bargain" in Rangers' history.
David Murray, the Rangers' chairman, predicted that Gascoigne would help the Ibrox side win a record 10 consecutive Scottish League championships and win through to the final rounds in European competition. "That's where our ambitions lie," he said.
The signing will give a much-needed fillip to the Scottish game, which has been in the doldrums in recent years after poor performances by club sides in Europe and the national team's failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Gascoigne said yesterday he was "fed up with people putting down Scottish football." He would, he said, "talk and play it up".