Hoddle says time is on Gascoigne's side

Football
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The Independent Online
England's footballers, like most of their fans, were gathered in front of the television last night. For them, however, the main event was not Channel 4's documentary on Paul Gascoigne, but a private video from the Glenn Hoddle collection.

The tape detailed the strengths and weaknesses of Poland, England's World Cup opponents at Wembley tomorrow night. Later, the bulk of the team watched the Gascoigne film, but for Hoddle it would have held little more than curiosity value.

The England coach knows that his tape, although carefully compiled, can merely give a suggestion as to what to expect from Poland. Only by playing them will England discover their true nature.

The same with Gascoigne. The film, for all its qualities, could only offer a flavour of a complex man; to understand him fully you would have to sit him down and get to know him personally.

That is what Hoddle has attempted to do this week, and he has liked what he has found. "I did not get the chance to talk to him properly on the Moldova trip, but I have sat down with a lot of players now and my eyes were opened when I sat down with Gazza," the England coach said yesterday.

"I have spoken to him at length, about lots of things. I thought he was a serious man who wants to succeed. I get the impression he wants to change his life. I know what has been said about him, including his drinking. I am not interested in that. I am only interested in the Paul Gascoigne I see before me. He is the one I want to understand. I see a skilful footballer with a great attitude and a caring person.

"He is married, has a son now and I believe that has made a big difference to him. Maybe I am lucky, maybe it has taken him this far to realise how good he is.

"He should look at his baby lying in bed at night. A baby's body needs careful looking after - it is special. When a footballer gets to 30, so does his body - you must take care of things properly and not abuse it. He can certainly play longer than he thought. He can play until he is at least 35; this World Cup and, yes, another one. He loves the game and that is a great starting point.

"When you get to 30, if you can play, if you have skill and wonderful ability, life gets easier. It should not get harder. If you look after yourself you can steer clear of injury - ask Ray Wilkins and Gordon Strachan.

"There was always a grim reaper over Gazza. There is no need for it to be around any more. He can open the curtains on a whole new era. In Moldova he wasn't 100 per cent fit, but it was worth a gamble playing him because of his ability. Now he is leaner, fitter and producing outstanding football for Rangers.

"He has not won anything with England and he desperately wants to. He may believe time is running out but it isn't, not when you have his ability. But he must look after himself. He knows the country is behind him, everyone is, but he must keep an even keel and learn to relax as a footballer and a family man. I loved to watch him play; now I like the man himself.

"He has a lot more to offer than the image of Paul Gascoigne so many people see. A lot of people have the wrong impression, but I know what my impression is.

"He should get up every morning and feel ready to take on the world. He has a deep love for England and wants to succeed. The Paul Gascoigne I have spoken to is the Gascoigne I want in my side and that is a great asset for English football."

One topic Hoddle addressed in his meeting was the need for Gascoigne to avoid cautions. He made the point yesterday that the new refereeing strictures help a player like Gascoigne when he has the ball - but can go against him when he has not.

"The way things are now, the old man-markers have been taken out of the game. There won't be any more Claudio Gentiles," he added, referring to the notorious Italian defender. "They would not get away with the things they used to, they will now be sent off.

"The changes have been brought in to help good technical players, like Gazza, but he's got to calm himself when opponents have the ball."

Neither side is expected to name its team until shortly before tomorrow's kick-off.

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