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A GIANT AMONG PYGMIES; Asks should he go or should he stay?

Dundee United 2 Rangers 1

There is a popular theory among Sassenachs that Scottish football is for primitive cavemen compared with the Premiership's sophistication.

As big a letdown as driving a Vauxhall Nova after road-testing a Ferrari.

As vulgar as a Carry On film after the profound impact of Schindler's List.

That master of sophistication, Paul Gascoigne, has been wrestling with his conscience since England's World Cup deliverance in Rome, trying to decide whether Glasgow Rangers can offer him an adequate test of prowess and motivation before next summer's finals in France.

If Gazza's repatriation south of the border was a simple matter of character reference, his visa application would be shredded instantly.

There isn't much of a market for belching into radio presenters' microphones, telling Norwegians to "**** off" when they visit Wembley or counting Chris Evans and Danny Baker among your drinking partners.

But as the cluster of English clubs jostling for his signature demonstrates, Gascoigne remains very much in demand as a footballer.

And with the World Cup finals only eight months away, he needs to be judged more than ever on his football rather than his social delinquence.

On the evidence of 90 minutes at Tannadice on Saturday, he is keeping pretty mediocre company.

Of course, Ibrox die-hards froth at the mouth at the slightest suggestion that Gascoigne might be losing his sharpness in the two-horse race also known as the Scottish Premier League.

But as Rangers fell by the Tayside, the overwhelming conclusion was that the Geordie attache for cultural affairs in Glasgow is a sporting giant mixing with pygmies.

In Europe, Gazza never gets the chance to measure his form and fitness against the most accomplished sides because Rangers never seem to get past Calais.

And in Scotland, he is worried enough about the journeymen at his mercy to seek Glenn Hoddle's counsel about his next career move. Against Dundee United, a team of no fixed ability, Gascoigne pitted his wits against luminaries including former Notts County striker Gary McSwegan, ex-QPR reserve keeper Sieb Dykstra and a clutch of lesser lights plucked from Continental obscurity.

Unsurprisingly, he had an excellent match, until his stamina waned in the last 20 minutes and his influence diminished with it.

But Rangers' boss Walter Smith isn't prepared to dispense with his star cabaret yet. And he gives short shrift to those who claim Gazza would be better off in England. Smith has banned his players from using the G word, but in the latest issue of club magazine Rangers News, he chimes: "What annoys me is when we start to get people like Mark Lawrenson saying Paul would be a better player if he was in the Premiership.

"What astounds me about that talk is that Paul has been here for more than two years and he is STILL England's top midfielder.

"That's by everyone else's estimation, not just mine. Two years in Scottish football hasn't done the player any harm.

"Rangers offered Paul a new contract at the end of last season and he accepted it. If he was unhappy here, he would not have signed another deal."

Former Ibrox and England midfielder Trevor Steven sided with Smith, saying: "In my opinion there would be nothing to gain from a move to any of the sides who have shown interest in Gazza.

"Somewhere like Man United, Liverpool or Arsenal would be different. But why should Paul move to a club where he might be fighting relegation every week and not enjoying his football?

"If Gazza is enjoying himself, doing well for Rangers and is first choice for England, what is the problem?"

Although he hasn't always courted public opinion in Scotland, notably when he admitted beating his wife, Gascoigne's appearance before kick- off triggered a massive chorus of "Gazza must stay" which he duly acknowledged.

Then he went through that familiar repertoire of surging runs, swatting away trailing defenders as if they were persistent mosquitoes, exquisite flicks and assured passing.

As the breakdown of Gascoigne's display shows, 28 of his 33 passes found blue shirts and he won the ball more often than he lost it.

Although his dead ball accuracy at setpieces was not up to international standard, he did supply the cross for prolific Italian striker Marco Negri's 23rd goal of the season and a Scottish record ninth successive appearance on the scoresheet.

And Gazza capped one of those mazy solo runs with a rasping left-foot shot of minimal backlift which clipped the bar.

On another occasion, he opted for placement instead of power and his volley drifted fractionally wide - probably the game's pivotal moment. Within a minute, Steven Pressley had potted United's winner from the penalty spot.

Thereafter, Wor Gazza was overheating like an old banger's radiator and he assumed the properties of a prizefighter who couldn't deliver the knockout punch, but it would be unfair to apportion any blame for his declining friskiness on the brutality of Dundee beefcakes.

One of Scottish football's most enduring fallacies is that any semblance of talent is snuffed out by a swift boot in the trossachs on the kicking fields.

This was never a dirty game and only once, when he clattered into Craig Easton, did Gascoigne's volatile temper threaten to send the mercury shooting off the gauge.

Reassuringly, however, the legend of hapless, blundering Scottish goalkeepers lives on.

Andy Goram, once a reliable pair of hands, dithered laughably over a back pass and pounds 1.5m-rated Sheffield Wednesday target Robbie Winters helped himself to the opener.

Later, it was Goram's dim-witted lunge at Pressley's feet that handed the former Ibrox defender United's spot-kick winner.

As goalkeeping master classes go, it wasn't quite in the same class as Stewart Kennedy at Wembley in 1975 or Alan Rough's `flap your hands, stamp your feet' routine in the 1978 World Cup. But it ran them close.

Poor old Gazza did not deserve to finish on the losing side, although the dose is not likely to be repeated too often if he decides to stay put - as seems increasingly likely.

But the ineptitude around him here was not the most persuasive argument for using Scotland as his launch pad for the ultimate test of sophistication in France.

GAZZA UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

l Accurate passes: 28

l Gave ball away: 5

l Tackles won: 7

l Dispossessed: 6

l Shots on target: 1

l Shots off target: 3

l Headers won: 5

l Free kicks won: 4

l Free kicks taken: 8

l Corners taken: 4

l Fouls committed: 1

l Caught offside: 0

l Crosses in open play: 2

l Solo dribbles: 7

l Performance rating:

8 out of 10

VERDICT:

Ran the game, then ran out of gas. Disappointing setpiece delivery, questionable fitness. Lots of tidy short-range passing, not enough penetration. Good commitment, didn't play like a man hoping to get away.

Dundee Utd (4-4-2): Dykstra, Dolan, Malpas, Pressley, Perry, Pedersen, Olofsson, Zetterlund, Winters, Easton, McLaren.

Subs; McSwegan, Skoldmark, McKimmie.

Rangers (4-4-2): Goram; Miller, Stensaas, Gough, Petric, Bjorklund, Gattuso, Gascoigne, Negri, McCall, Laudrup.

Subs: Durie, Porrini, Albertz.

Referee: Jim McCluskey (Stewarton)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Walters, Mike
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 27, 1997
Words:1181
Previous Article:Ear-Pearcing flow of chat; OFF THE BALL.
Next Article:Attack Mac, or it's World Cup curtains.


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