Gazza graces Chinese debut with 'world-class goal'

By Mark Burton
Sunday 30 March 2003 02:00

Old footballers never die, they simply fade into obscurity, which in Paul Gascoigne's case means the Chinese B-league. Not quite the heady days of the top flight in England, Scotland and Italy, but the former Tottenham, Rangers, Lazio and England midfielder made a flying start to his new career, scoring an early goal to help his new club Gansu Tianma to a 2-0 victory.

In front of a sell-out crowd of about 20,000 in Lanzhou, a largely Muslim industrial city on the fringes of the desert, the 35-year-old Gascoigne played for 85 minutes, steering the home team to success over the Qingdao-based side Hailifeng.

When Gascoigne said in a telephone interview afterwards that he played "better than my normal level", it is not likely that he was trying to conjure images of the man who thundered a free-kick past David Seaman in an FA Cup semi-final or flummoxed Colin Hendry for his delightfully cheeky goal against Scotland at Wembley in Euro 96. His comment that physically "everything was fine" also needs considerable interpretation.

Then again, he clearly shone at times in his new role of guiding light, or at least player-coach, in a land where football is developing fast. His goal, in the 14th minute, sounded pure Gazza the way his team's general manager, Zhong Bohong, described it to Reuters. "It was really pretty," he said. "He stole the ball in midfield, beat two defenders and carried it all the way to the edge of the penalty box. His shot went into the upper left corner of the net. It was a world-class goal."

Wang Heng sealed the win a minute after Gascoigne was substituted as his physical effort began to tell on him. "He was all over the field, in the front, in the back. You could say he flew around the whole field," Zhong said. "Not only did he organise the attack, he also helped out in defence."

Another veteran, Steve Claridge, is also enjoying a late flourish in the east... well, the south-east of London anyway. Millwall have offered the 36-year-old striker Steve Claridge a new one-year contract to stay at the New Den after his current deal ends at the end of the season.

He had been told that the club could struggle to keep him on the same wages, but Claridge held talks with the chairman, Theo Paphitis, this week and will now consider his options.

Age has never been much of a barrier to leading goalkeepers and Manchester City's manager, Kevin Keegan, has said he is happy to wait until the end of the season for Peter Schmeichel to decide if he will spend another year with Manchester City. At 39 the Great Dane is not the oldest goalkeeper in the Premiership – Arsenal's Seaman is a couple of months older.

Schmeichel, who marked his return to the City side after a six-match absence against Birmingham this month with a clean sheet, has not decided whether to take up the offer of another one-year contract and had feared Keegan would want a quick decision.

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