x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gascoigne's decline shows the harder side of the game

Paul Gascoigne was a superstar of the boom period in Italian and English football. But his profession hardly knew of his private suffering.

A giant flag bearing the picture of former Lazio striker Paul Gascoigne is waved by Lazio's fans.
A giant flag bearing the picture of former Lazio striker Paul Gascoigne is waved by Lazio's fans.

In the Europa League, Tottenham Hotspur and Lazio renew an acquaintance first formed 20 years ago. The clubs are linked by a famous player, Paul Gascoigne, probably the most gifted English footballer of his generation, sold by Spurs to Lazio in the summer of 1992, a move that fascinated fans in Italy and England.

"Gazza" had some memorable games with the Rome club. Outwardly, his extrovert streak appealed to many Italians, but infuriated others. One coach at Lazio took exception, understandably, when Gascoigne threw five mountain bikes down a slope at the team's training ground.

It would later become clear that behind the jovial prankster was a troubled personality, prone to depression and the abuse of alcohol.

Away from the game, he suffered loneliness and stress in Italy, and would take his psychological problems back to Britain with him.

Gascoigne has been invited to attend both the fixtures between his old clubs, although his attendance is never certain until the last minute, in a middle age that lurches between his efforts at rehabilitation and sudden downturns in his mental health.

Gascoigne was a superstar of the boom period in Italian and English football. But his profession hardly knew of his private suffering. And it did little to care for it.

Football is a generous sport financially to its stars, some of whom behave irresponsibly. But Gazza's decline is a reminder that it is also a sport that can itself be irresponsible in ignoring the human concerns of the young men it employs.