Paul Gascoigne’s latest TV appearance on BT Sport has left those who watched it with a feeling of nostalgia quite like no other. Whilst his segment in the build up to Tottenham vs. West Ham last Sunday may have only been a brief offering from the former Newcastle, Spurs and Lazio man, Gazza nevertheless reminded fans of English football just what they had been missing since his final farewell from the game in 2004.
Although his style out on the pitch really was a joy to behold for all those who remember him as a player – especially since no other Englishman has really been able to replicate his level of skill in the modern day – it’s Paul Gascoigne’s character that makes him so renowned and loved among his many fans. Alongside the likes of Ian Wright and Russell Brand on the BT sofa, he talked of landing sunbeds for his sister as part of contractual negotiations with Tottenham, crying tears of joy in the notorious Rome derby, and as well as a few apparently controversial segments that left his co-hosts in stitches whilst off-air, he reminded us all of what footballers used to be like in a bygone era.
The creatively brilliant midfielder may therefore have been somewhat of a one-off type of guy, but in the increasingly sterile, media hyped world of modern day football – maybe the Premier League needs more Gazza type heroes to return a sense of character and meaning within the ‘Beautiful Game’.
Paul Gascoigne, as a player and as a man, goes down in the archives of sporting history as a seemingly flawed genius. Just in the same way that Vincent van Gogh supposedly cut off part of his ear for artistic reasons, Michelangelo refused to take off his boots for months on end whilst completing his most famous works, and how Sir Isaac Newton was reported to have been one of the biggest mood swingers in his profession – Gazza is a footballing artist who was perhaps just as much of a danger to himself as he was to the opposition.
Whether it be through scoring simply breath-taking goals, like his effort against Scotland in Euro ’96, or seemingly being the root of his own downfall, as was the case when he senselessly fouled Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final and ruptured cruciate ligaments in his own leg, Paul Gascoigne was an enigma, but an exciting one at that. His ability with the ball and daring nature on the pitch saw him become fixated within the nation’s consciousness for both the crazy as well as the sublime.
When you take a look at the current England national team, with all due respect to the personalities involved, there simply seems to be a distinct lack of loveable characters who have it in them to captivate a nation, as well as being able to do the business on the pitch.
Such an indifferent phenomenon can be blamed on no mere individual however. Perhaps the lack of ‘Gazza’s’ in the today’s game is intrinsically linked to the potentially overbearing nature of the media and the pressure it often places upon modern day footballers. Certain players are constantly lambasted in the press for any anything deemed to be ‘wacky’ and therefore ‘unprofessional’. Young impressionable talents are seemingly cast under the shadow of a bad-boy image before they have even had a chance to really present themselves on the pitch, so it comes as no surprise that sometimes these lowly expectations are eventually met.
The FA and their officials also have a role to play. They need to remember that football is a game founded upon drama, excitement and widespread sensation. Going into the crowd or taking off a shirt as part of a post goal celebration should never be deemed a crime – on the contrary – this level of emotion is just the kind of thing that sport is meant to be all about.
We are left to ask how potentially exciting characters within the game are supposed to develop under such restricting circumstances? The England national team certainly needs them more than ever with its current crisis of image, but with more and more footballers seemingly turning increasingly robotic by the minute, it seems we may be waiting for the next Paul Gascoigne for a great deal longer than was initially expected.
As football is a game of surprises however, the next Gazza might just well be waiting around the corner…