4 May 2012

England's ten most gifted footballers of the last 50 years: Number 1, Paul Gascoigne


And he's the best by a mile, too. People with no interest in football perhaps fail to see why a person as foolish, gullible, destructive and infantile in his private affairs as Gascoigne should be so newsworthy. Isn't he just an overweight, loutish drunkard who got famous for principally the wrong reasons? They don't realise that he was, simply, a genius, an artist. He was a magnificent footballer, a once-in-a-century English prospect who, with just a tad more maturity and luck, would have ruled the game globally for 15 years. Even the suspicious system that England had at the time couldn't either dampen Gascoigne's enthusiasm nor waste his talent; he simply had to be the centrepiece of everything planned around the England team because he could win matches and qualify for campaigns on his own. An impertinent figure who emerged in Newcastle United's midfield, he moved to Tottenham - mistakenly for his lifestyle but not so much so for his game - and became a treasure of the nation as well as that bit of north London. He pretty much won the FA Cup for Spurs on his own in 1991, despite his notorious early exit from the final, and though the injury that ended his biggest day and delayed his big move to Italy took a while to heal, he maintained a level of brilliance and unpredictability that was without parallel in Europe. His spell at Glasgow Rangers made him the fittest and most dangerous he'd ever been, and though his England career peaked twice - the 1990 World Cup (as much in qualifying as in the tournament) and the 1996 European Championships - and troughed immediately after each, his cards were marked by all who observed him as the greatest talent to pull on the shirt. Immense in possession, strong, beautifully balanced, impudent when releasing the ball, fearless in shooting, devastating from set-pieces and, despite his infamous podginess, very quick as well, he had absolutely everything. Unfortunately, he also had a drink problem, a temper and a tendency to be led astray easily, but the football people who think of Gascoigne will always put the player ahead of the person. He was just so good.

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