Smith attempts to steady Gascoigne

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Football

DAVID MCKINNEY

Walter Smith yesterday sat down with Paul Gascoigne in an effort to direct his pounds 4.3m signing back on to a steady course. The intervention of the Rangers manager, who declined to reveal the outcome, was overdue for a player whose reputation afforded him the benefit of the doubt when he arrived at Ibrox in the summer, but who has been increasingly trying the patience of his employers.

His dismissal in the Champions' League match at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday was a culmination of pressure on and off the field, and if Gascoigne feels victimised by referees, the Scottish Association and the media, he also fails to realise the self-inflicted nature of the publicity.

Gascoigne is the most expensive purchase in the history of Scottish football, and as such has rarely been out of the headlines. He created uproar in a pre-season friendly when he mimicked the playing of a flute at Ibrox, the problems in his personal life were well-publicised, and his actions against Aberdeen on 11 November were scrutinised by the SFA and the Procurator Fiscal.

More recently, the SFA has seen fit to investigate claims from a member of the public that a photograph showing Gascoigne patting the backside of Hearts' Alan Lawrence is an indication of the player bringing the game into disrepute. While reporters delight in filling pages about his private life, the governing body, by their actions, have joined them. As a consequence, the player has indicated he will no longer speak to the press. Even then, the player's aptitude for self-indulgence shines through as he has signed an exclusive deal with an individual newspaper.

Increasingly, Gascoigne's on-field actions have taken referees to the edge. Some of his actions verge on the childish, but despite reservations regarding his fitness or his mental attitude, no one has yet questioned his ability as a player. He has demonstrated his renowned skills in flashes, but Gascoigne's worth must be gauged against the backdrop of the Champions' League, not against Partick Thistle.

Although he scored a trademark goal against Steaua Bucharest, Rangers finished their group without a win and certainly Gascoigne's reputation could become damaged if people were to begin to question his ability to operate at the top level.

At some stage, David Murray, the Rangers chairman, will have to decide whether his gamble has paid off. He has shown in the past with both Graeme Souness and Duncan Ferguson that he is not afraid to push the button on the ejector seat, and not even the reputation of Gascoigne would prevent him doing so if necessary.

Gascoigne did have one piece of good news yesterday - the SFA are to take no action over his bottom-pinching escapade.

Gascoigne's six months of shame

JULY: Danish referee Peter Mikkelsen warns Gascoigne will face trouble with authority after handling a friendly between Hvidovre and Rangers in Copenhagen.

13 SEPTEMBER: First yellow card as a Rangers player in the 1-0 defeat by Steaua Bucharest in Romania for a wild tackle.

23 SEPT: First yellow card in Scotland in a Premier Division game with Hibs at Ibrox for dissent.

30 SEPT: Booked against Celtic for a foul in 2-0 victory by Rangers at Parkhead in which he scores second goal.

21 OCTOBER: Another yellow card for dissent in a 4-1 win over Hearts at Ibrox. Is pictured from the same game feeling the bottom of Alan Lawrence - which prompts member of the public to write to the SFA complaining he is bringing the game into disrepute.

24 OCT: Booked again for dissent in a 2-1 Coca Cola Cup semi-final defeat by Aberdeen at Hampden.

8 NOVEMBER: Shown yellow card for dissent in a 2-0 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

11 NOV: Escapes punishment by referee John Rowbotham, despite a series of elbowing incidents and a head-butt on John Inglis in a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Ibrox. Later given one-match ban for bringing game into disrepute. He will miss the game against Motherwell on 19 December.

19 NOV: Booked for a foul on Jackie McNamara in a 3-3 draw with Celtic at Ibrox. This takes him over 16 penalty points and incurs a one-match ban to be served against Partick Thistle on 9 December.

6 DECEMBER: First red card as a Rangers player for two bookings in a 2-2 draw with Borussia Dortmund in Germany. First yellow for a foul on Andreas Moller, second for dissent at Spanish referee, Manual Diaz Vega. Facing at least a one-match Uefa suspension next season.

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