Not along ago, Sir Alex Ferguson claimed Paul Gascgoine wouldn’t be facing the troubles he is had he signed for Manchester United. With Fergie shielding our young players from the limelight, enabling them to have long footballing careers rather than burning themselves out with partying, he believed he could have steered Gazza away from the alcoholic lifestyle.
“Around 1987, when Newcastle were bobbing above the relegation zone, we played them and my three central midfielders that day were Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and Remi Moses. All great footballers and he just tore them apart,” said Ferguson. “Robbo and Whiteside were chasing him up and down the pitch and they couldn’t get near him. We spoke to him the night before I went on holiday. He says ‘Go and enjoy yourself Mr Ferguson, I’ll be signing for Manchester United’. So I went on my holidays but Martin Edwards [then chairman] rang and said ‘I’ve got some bad news – he signed for Tottenham.”
Ferguson believes we had a good set up at United which would have ensured Gazza had a stable future. With his alcoholism eating him away, Fergie believes that his decision to sign for Spurs, after the London club bought a home up in the North East for his parents, was a mistake.
“I think it was a bad mistake, and Paul admits it,” Ferguson continued. “We had Bryan Robson, a Geordie, Steve Bruce, a Geordie, Gary Pallister, from Middlesbrough. We had a structure of players who could have helped him and it could have given him some discipline.”
The Sun have printed an article today by Terry Venables, comparing Gazza to our Wayne, painting a favourable picture of our number ten.
Seeing Wayne Rooney destroying Belarus the other night was just like watching Paul Gascoigne all over again. But there is one crucial difference between these working-class geniuses … Rooney can cope with all the hype and expectations created by his talent.
I didn’t really get to know Wayne that well during my recent time as England coach but I always found him to be a polite, respectful young man. He’s not the sort of bloke who seeks the limelight. You’ll never see him courting publicity or willingly volunteering to talk to the media. Yet he’s relaxed and confident when he’s with his pals and can be the joker in that group.
Gazza was very similar in many ways, but much more of an extrovert. He hogged the whole show … on and off the pitch. He wanted to make everyone laugh and be loved by everyone. Rooney is happy just being accepted by his colleagues. He has handled his fame very well and, though he is more than capable of expressing himself in the papers and on TV, that’s not what he’s about.
A lot of really special talents believe they don’t have to put in a shift for the team because they are supplying the magic. Wayne’s work ethic is not just impressive, it’s startling. In fact, some people believe he works too hard, particularly in areas of the pitch where he’s not supposed to be. But the fact is he can handle that workload and it doesn’t detract from his effectiveness. He’s not happy unless he feels he’s pulling his weight.
Like Gazza, he has that schoolboy’s enthusiasm for the game. Watch him in training and he’s like a little boy in the playground. His current form for England is the best we’ve seen since Euro 2004. The reason for his resurgence is because he’s fit, healthy and enjoying a regular run of games. Because he’s built like a boxer — short and stocky — it’s more important for him to be the right weight and have proper fitness. Taller, leaner players tend to come back from injury quicker.
Right now, Rooney is banging them in like there is no tomorrow. But he would honestly be just as happy not to score as long as the team is winning. And that is what makes him so special.