Spotlight is once again on Gascoigne

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The Independent Online

Football Correspondent

Terry Venables and his favourite footballing son, Paul Gascoigne, were back in the spotlight at Bisham Abbey yesterday, producing a mixture of suspense and hope as England prepared for tomorrow's international against Colombia at Wembley.

Venables' contribution to the suspense came with his refusal to reveal whether Gascoigne would start the match. If he does, it will be for the first time since Venables' opening match as England coach, against Denmark, 11 matches and 18 months ago. It might also be worth a few thousand extra on what is going to be an attendance of barely 20,000.

Gascoigne, as ever, said he was fit enough to play, noting he had had nine matches for Rangers (not that he has finished many of these). Venables - whose summer weight loss, allegedly on a champagne diet, mirrors Gascoigne's - limited himself to admiring comments on Gascoigne's strength and improving fitness.

"He has been out a long time and needed the games. His physical side is very good. It is a case of his getting back the rhythm and control of the game. He has improved more than I thought. I thought it would take four or five months to get where he is now."

Gascoigne also had his own mystery, one which, in some quarters, will be granted far greater attention. The lemon top, he promised, is to go. In its place at Wembley tomorrow will be another new crop.

No doubt his crimper is already hot-footing to Bisham while, in Glasgow, a thousand barbers eagerly await the next gold mine. Given local rivalry a green rinse can be ruled out. However, the bleach boys' imitators need not head for the last chance salon yet. Gascoigne's pledge was made after the media suggested his desire for privacy ran counter to what appears to be constant attention-seeking.

"Do you want me to look like Mr Bean all my life," he said. "I did it [the bleaching] because I thought I looked good. I wore the peach suit for the same reason. But, just for you, I'll do something else with my hair tomorrow."

While such an affair may be superficial, it underlines the contradictions in Gascoigne's character, and the stresses under which he must live his life.

"I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be a good footballer," he said. "I take my football seriously, I always have. I want to be left alone to play it.

"I am always getting watched. You get fed up with it. I am followed in Glasgow, people know where I have been, what I have eaten. I suppose when I stop playing football the attention will end."

Judging from George Best's enduring celebrity, that is unlikely. For now Gascoigne, and Venables, are more concerned with the present.

"I want to show people how well I can play," Gascoigne said. "My job is to make the team tick, to get everyone involved, and hopefully get up and score a few as well."

Venables said: "He is an outstanding player. They do not come around very often. He could easily have thought I have done it [performed well in a World Cup], I have now become a bit of a fat cat, and it hurts to do the work to get that off. Instead he has been dedicated. He is very important for us."

One suspects he will not start tomorrow, but will play the second half. England have injury doubts about Stuart Pearce (hamstring) and Peter Beardsley (knee), but Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Teddy Sheringham were able to train. Redknapp may make his debut, alongside John Barnes, Dennis Wise and Robert Lee in midfield.

Venables seemed unconcerned about reports that the missing midfielder, Matt Le Tissier, is being courted by Bobby Gould, the new manager of Wales. Although Le Tissier has played for England, he has not done so in competitive matches and is therefore, as a Channel Islander, eligible to play for Wales (or Scotland or Northern Ireland).

Venables said he thought the loophole was strange but the decision was up to the player. He was not going to ask Le Tissier not to defect, or give him assurances.

This may seem odd but Venables has made it quite clear that he is only interested in players who want to play for England. The best thing Le Tissier can do is publicly state his desire to play for England, and England alone. For all Gascoigne's faults, such a commitment has never been in doubt.