Two of the finest England footballers of the past 20 years have been in the news this week - and what contrasting stories their recent careers tell. David Beckham played 45 minutes of a friendly for his new team AC Milan against Hamburg in Dubai, and could still call on some of the felicitous touches on which he has built his career. So impressed were Milan, they are trying to extend Beckham's two-month loan period to 11 months.
Meanwhile, back home in Britain's bleak midwinter, a TV show, Surviving Gazza, was a chilling look at the life now being led by another former England midfield star, Paul Gascoigne. Though both players clearly have a need to be the centre of attention there the similarity ends. Becks has been well advised, and has managed to keep himself before the public via a series of shrewd PR moves, with a side order of football - if that is not being too harsh on his marginal contribution to LA Galaxy's distinctly underwhelming progress. Gazza, on the other hand, has always been attended by the kind of people who, sometimes with the best of intentions, lead him in directions he is ill equipped to follow.
I interviewed Gazza a few years ago, shortly after he had emerged from one of his occasional bouts of expensive rehab at the Priory. He was signing copies of a ghost written autobiography, and the publishers had arranged for me to speak with Gazza in a back room at the bookshop. Although he was free of alcohol at the time, he chain smoked throughout the interview, breaking off just long enough to drink four large double espressos. Here was a man clearly replacing one addiction with several others. He looked terrible. Asked about his plans, he mentioned opening a restaurant with Danny Baker (Motormouth British broadcaster and writer).
Were it not for the security cameras, I should have been tempted to grab hold of the retinue of PR people, advisers and so on, accompanying Gazza, and knock their heads together. Opening a restaurant with a disc jockey? How could they encourage such nonsensical pipe dreams? You know the answer. It was in their interests to go along with every madcap idea suggested to the former England star, because, despite everything, he was still box office. Everybody was still making a good living off Gazza.
And what is left, after the book's profitable soul-baring, more rehab, an ill-fated episode playing in China, and one or two ludicrous coaching assignments, but of course no restaurant? I am not a doctor, but at a guess I should say that alongside his alcohol addiction, Gazza shows signs of being paranoid, delusional, obsessive compulsive, and possibly anorexic. At one point in the programme, we saw him drunk in a hotel bar, telling whoever would listen how the Pope, George Clooney, the White House, ring him regularly to chat.
But it may not be too late to help Gazza. What he needs is for some of the people who made a good living out of his name to recognise the well has run dry. There is nothing left to exploit. Another bout of rehab is not enough for the former England international. He needs long-term specialist residential help to restore his mental health. Even then, success is not guaranteed, but for those of us who love football, and thus love Gascoigne, it would be nice to think that in two or three years there might be a book or TV show called Saving Gazza.
Football management is a job that by its very nature attracts incorrigible egotists, but even in such a world Harry Redknapp stands out. His stinging comments about the deficiencies of the squad he has inherited from Juande Ramos remind me of the barber who looks at your hair and automatically disses - as I believe the modern parlance has it - the chap who cut it last. Harry, I think, would do well to wait till the end of the season, when we know how effective his surgery and his spending at Tottenham have been, before shooting his mouth off.
One of the consequences of the British winter is that it is not possible to go out and play tennis. Fortunately, we have a Wii at home, enabling us to stay indoors, and play a virtual game. As those of you familiar with the technology will know, you use the remote controls as rackets, and swing them to hit the ball that you are following on screen. The only problem is that these virtual rackets do not require a back swing as in normal tennis: they require more of a flick of the wrist. The Wii consoles and games are so successful that this minor imperfection is possibly something that the manu-facturers are prepared to live with. In fact, I only mention it because my eight-year-old daughter is beating me hollow, every game. firstname.lastname@example.org