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The sad ballad of Paul Gascoigne

Gazza's public disintegration was all too inevitable.

Tony Cascarino, 03 Mar 2008

I know quite a bit about Paul Gascoigne and how he’s lived his life, and the unfortunate fact is that Gazza can’t deal with loneliness. He’s had a big void to fill since he finished playing, and he can’t do TV or radio work. Really, he’s England’s Paul McGrath. Every day is a battle for Paul, and Gazza’s no different. They say you have to reach rock bottom to come out of these situations, and Gazza has to somehow find the courage to face the reality of his life.

The end of a football career can be very dramatic for some players, and Gazza’s a typical example of where it can all go wrong. I don’t think Gascoigne fulfilled his potential as a player because he got some daft injuries, most notably in the Cup Final against Nottingham Forest when he made that ridiculous challenge. In my opinion, if he’d not been so eccentric, he would have played for someone like Manchester United, won several titles and had an incredible career. But I think the reason he didn’t end up at Old Trafford was because Fergie knew what he was like.

I played against Gazza on a couple of occasions and also spent some time in his company. He’d have you in bits laughing, but after an hour or so it was like, ‘Fucking hell, can we get away?’ It’s continual with Paul. He’s like a lonely child you have to try and control, but it’s difficult because he has so many psychological problems.

When it comes to the question of clubs helping players like Paul, to be brutally honest, I don’t know what you can do. Genetically, I think he’s hardwired in a strange way. I don’t know, even if help was offered, whether he would have wanted it or taken it. With certain people, it’s just very, very hard to make them change their ways. Also, you have to take responsibility yourself in life. A lot of what has happened to Paul has been self-inflicted.

Some people say that wayward element is part of these players’ genius, and talk about the likes of George Best and so on. Actually, that’s absolute nonsense. There are many people in sport - Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher and countless others - who are brilliantly successful, but they’re normal people. Looking around at today’s players, you can see aspects of that tearaway streak in certain people.

Someone like Joey Barton, for example, is showing early signs of doing mad things. I think there’s a malicious side to Barton that wasn’t there with Gazza or Paul McGrath, but there are people out there who might be well advised to look at what’s happened to players who never managed to get their self-destructive impulses under control.

Turning to on-field matters, Barcelona were hugely impressive against Celtic in the Champions League. I felt sorry for Celtic, but then I realised that’s actually how the rest of the SPL feel on a weekly basis. The Bhoys were absolutely battered from start to finish, but they’ll have learned a lot in that game with regard to what’s needed to be successful at that level. Still, you have to put it in perspective. When you look at what Celtic can pay in transfer fees and wages, they can’t compete with a club like Barcelona.

There are other clubs in the Champions League who will cause Barcelona a lot more problems than Celtic. It’s an advantage for them playing their home games second, because they can then play their free-flowing style of football. But I think Chelsea would give them problems, because of the way they dig in, and even Liverpool knocked them out last year.

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