How Linda left Gazza writhing and groaning

Guy Hodgson hears South Africa's hatchet man come back for a second attack on England's injured midfielder
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The Independent Online
There were any number of ways you could imagine Paul Gascoigne attracting headlines with someone called Linda. The football field, perhaps, was not the venue that came to mind but with Gazza things happen and, sure enough, just when you thought he had survived a rare incident-free 90 minutes, he was writhing and groaning because of Linda's expert attention.

Worse, within seconds he was having his left leg massaged by a man wearing what looked suspiciously like a uniform. In other circumstances the media would have had a field day, but then they will anyway. Stand by for a week of will he, won't he be fit to play against Poland.

Linda, as in Linda Buthelezei, is a name which conveys an image that does not stand the test of meeting. Not that you would tell him, though, as the 27-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder has a shaven head that suggests steeliness which is not a facade. He is the hard man of the South African squad who collects cautions like some people compile rare postage stamps. "When I watch Paul Ince play I see myself," he said, which may not be taken as a compliment by the Internazionale player.

Indeed when Buthelezei, a non-drinking, non-smoking churchgoer, tells you he follows Jesus, you suspect the Almighty is looking over his shoulder for a chop from behind. "Most teams are scared of me," he said. "I dig in and work hard."

The tackle that will ensure Buthelezei a short notoriety came as the game entered appropriately named injury time. Gascoigne feinted, turned and was sent face down in the dirt by a scythe from a man with a mission. The result was a badly bruised calf for the victim and a yellow card for his assailant, who had been on the pitch for just two minutes.

The challenge, you could say, had been premeditated. "Of course I was out to prove a point," Buthelezei said. "In England that's the way you play. It was a fair tackle, when the referee gave me a yellow card it was unfair to me. Gascoigne is a good player but he knows it's a hard game. I'm very aggressive, but I'm not dirty.

That was not quite how the England coach saw it. "Diabolical tackle, one we do not like to see in football," said Glen Hoddle. "The ball had gone. If they all went around doing that they would have had six players left on the pitch. It was callously done, very disappointing."

Buthelezei, however, was intent on justifying his action. "In the first half he [Gascoigne] was doing things, making things easier for his team- mates and I said 'man, this guy is going to kill us, I'm going to stop him'. I needed to impose myself."

Which he did to an extent that half the England team, led inevitably by Ian Wright, explained the error of his ways. "The game was fizzling out," Wright said, "the referee had said there was 30 seconds to go and I thought it was a rash challenge. Gazza's an integral part of our World Cup campaign and we want him now. That's why I wasn't happy with the fella and I told him so."

Which was enough to keep the media happy for weeks but Buthelezei, who had a two-month trial with Birmingham City earlier in his career, was making a Barry Fry interview seem tedious. Headlines fell from his mouth and even his full name had connotations, as it included a word that allows him to call his autobiography "Innocent".

Innocent is as Innocent does and Innocent Linda Buthelezei went on to lecture Gascoigne on his conduct. "He has got an attitude where he is not like a footballer," the South African said. "His behaviour, drinking and all that stuff, it's not acceptable. He's a footballer and they are heroes of the world. Young people follow him and he should be an example. You should respect yourself, respect your body and respect the people who look up to you."

Strong words which will not make Gascoigne's calf feel any less painful this morning, although the two had made up by the time they left Old Trafford.

"He told me: 'No bother, it's OK man. I'll be fine'," Buthelezi, who had sought out the injured man in the England dressing room, said. "I went to him and hugged him."

In the arms of Linda. Gazza probably had a different image of what that means, too.

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