Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Focus On : Paul Gascoigne : "Waiting For Gascoigne"

 When Rangers signed "Gazza" in the summer of 1995 from Lazio for a fee of £4.3 million, it was probably the biggest coup ever seen in Scottish football. Here was the English hero of Italia 90 and the midfielder acknowledged by English fans as the most talented player of his generation coming to Scotland - and he wasn't even at the veteran stage yet! Rangers knew they were getting a world class performer to join their other one, Laudrup, but manager Smith also knew that the two players were chalk and cheese when it came to their personality. Gascoigne brought genius and madness with him as well as a lot of baggage for the media to latch on to whereas Laudrup was the model professional with the stable and happy homelife.
In Italy, injury and the alien football culture had caused Gascoigne's career to stall somewhat so he was ready for returning home. Few could have suspected that "home" would turn out to be Govan! From his arrival at the stadium, Gazza captured the hearts of the Gers fans and fired their imagination. Before a ball had been kicked, young fans were copying his hairstyle and getting their hair dyed blond like his, much to the despair of their mothers, no doubt. His cheeky, happy-go-lucky persona made him an attractive new hero for the fans to worship but it was on the field that his talent generated most admiration. 

 A modern midfield player, he combined strength with skill. His surging runs would create many a goal, sometimes scored by himself. He showed great vision and had a variety of passing skills that meant he could open up defences at will. Excellent ball control and an instant first touch gave him the time and space to set off on a penetrating run that sometimes became almost a mazy dribble through the opposition. He used his upper body strength to ward off any challenges and sometimes, too, his elbows - a tactic that caused some controversy at times. A genuine goal-scoring midfield, creative player who got himself ahead of forwards into scoring positions, Gascoigne was very difficult to mark. No wonder he would eventually amass 57 caps for England. His greatest weakness was his discipline. A tendency to retaliate against opponents who spent the whole match trying to stop him illegally and a penchant for dissent made referees show him the yellow card too easily. Famously, one even booked him once when he had dropped a yellow card that was later picked up by Gazza. As the player returned it to the ref, jokingly pretending to book him, the ref called him back and showed him the yellow card for real! To his credit, Gascoigne merely smiled at the official as he walked away with yet another unjust booking.

Gascoigne's first season at Ibrox was simply sensational. He thrilled and entertained the fans, caused all sorts of controversy, basically won the match for Rangers that sealed the title and won the sportswriters' Player of the Year award. In fact, the entertainment and controversy started with a pre-season friendly against Steaua Bucharest when, after it had been suggested by Ian Ferguson beforehand as a celebration, he scored a goal and pretended to play the flute in front of the Gers fans at Ibrox. Cue condemnation from the media in the Sunday papers next day. The Englishman had a lot to learn about football politics in Scotland. Although he eventually did get clued up, it didn't ever curb his mischievous and controversial behaviour both on and off the field. Throughout his first season, Gascoigne's brand of football magic and fun lit up Ibrox and the other stadia of Scotland. He controlled matches, set up goals and scored some memorable ones himself in that time. Space doesn't permit the detail needed to thoroughly capture his achievements during that season. However, even some snapshots of his deeds might just bring back wonderful memories of the fans who witnessed his exploits. In his first Old Firm league game at Parkhead, he scored a brilliant second goal in Gers' 2-0 win. With the ball in the Rangers' box, it was cleared upfield to Salenko on the halfway line. He passed it out to the right for McCoist to run on to and his pass into the centre was reached by Gascoigne who had started his run from his own penalty area when the ball had originally been cleared. How he got from one end to the other in a few seconds defied belief. Not only that but he controlled the ball and coolly dispatched it to the side of keeper, Marshall.

In the crunch match at Ibrox against Aberdeen, when a Gers' win would seal the title, Rangers were a goal down before Gazza took on the Dons' defence single-handedly to equalise before half-time. A penalty and another stunning goal gave Rangers the necessary victory and 8-in-a-row. His second goal will never be forgotten by fans who were there that day. Collecting the ball deep in his own half, he went on one of those characteristic, lung-bursting runs of his. Straight through the centre of the Dons defence he ran, shaking off one opponent after another before passing a shot into the corner of the net. As often as not, his great technique saw Gascoigne passing the ball into the goal rather than blasting it. This was seen at its best in the following season's League Cup Final at Parkhead against Hearts who had come from two goals behind to equalise in the second half. With Rangers looking for inspiration, it was Gazza at his best who provided it. His two goals exemplified his movement, vision and skill perfectly as he passed the ball into the net once he had made the space to try it. In a league match at Ibrox against Celtic, with a couple of minutes left and Gers leading 1-0, a Celtic header smacked off the bar. The ball was swept up the field quickly in a series of quick passes and when Albertz curled a lovely cross into the box from the left, there was Gazza diving in, to head it into the net and seal a Rangers' win. As usual, he had run the length of the pitch to finish off the move. In a league game that season at Ibrox against Hibs, Rangers thrashed the visitors 7-1 and although Durie scored 4 of the goals, it was Gazza's that fans remembered. Picking the ball up just inside the Hibs half, he went on a mazy dribble, waltzing past 5 Hibs players before tucking the ball away confidently. Such solo efforts weren't unusual. In fact they were his trademark. With a genius like Gascoigne in the team, anything was possible.

 Unfortunately, his playing rhythm and form was interrupted all too frequently in the latter part of his second season by injury and suspension. Having said that, he was part of the side that won 9-in-a-row that memorable evening at Tannadice. Although he still scored unforgettable goals and gave performances that were out-of-this-world, they became less frequent. With a loss of form and personal problems piling up, he was allowed to leave the club for £3.5 million to Middlesbrough before the end of the season that saw the club fail in its quest for ten-in-a-row. Many Gers fans believed that letting him leave when he did, reduced the chances of a Gers' title win that season. Gazza was gone but the memory lingered. He was, and still is, a Rangers' hero, rightfully taking his place in the Greatest Ever Rangers team and in the Hall of Fame. (holytownloyal.co.uk)


Caps






5 comments:

  1. Great! By the way, the link???

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  2. Hi! Is there footage from Rangers - Steaua matches in 1995-1996 Champions League group stage?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ok, thanks a lot, I'll do that! Anyway, great work with the blog! Cheers!

    ReplyDelete

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