Monday, July 11, 2011

Gazza Saga - The Transfer That Never Was

Anyone old enough to remember Italia '90 or Euro '96 can easily recall how Gazza mesmerized the average football fan. His stints with Spurs and Rangers were memorable for their fans to see this genius week-in, week-out. Paul Gascoigne, who also went on to play for clubs like Lazio, Middlesbrough and Everton is ironically also the source of inspiration for Wazza's name - Rooney's nick was coined when he was compared to the great Gazza. 

Paul Gascoigne and Old Trafford could have potentially been an ideal match. Gazza would have brought his sheer genius to a United squad that was in the quest of breaking the Merseyside monopoly.

Grabbed by Vinnie, but Not by Fergie!
United, on the other hand, would have given Gazza the opportunity to ply his trade at the highest levels of club football. The utter loss of a dazzling career could have been avoided and Gazza could have had the opportunity of becoming a midfield legend at OT like Robbo, Keano and Scholesy. There are few players that Fergie has failed to sign during his career - Gary Lineker from Barca, although Fergie did not go out of his away and probably Lineker wanted to live in London, Alan Shearer twice, once from Southampton because probably he wanted to play in a team which revolved around him and hence moved to Blackburn and then again when he chose to join his hometown club, Newcastle.  

Gary Lineker (L) & Alan Shearer (R)
Allegedly, Marcel Desailly was supposed to sign for us before moving to Chelsea and there are maybe a few other examples like Ballack, Essien, Robben and Ronaldinho where Fergie missed out on players. However, as Fergie would himself agree, none of those mishaps would cause him to regret the way he rued missing out on Gazza. And eventually, vice versa.

The three key figures throughout the Gazza Saga were of course Paul Gascoigne himself, Sir Alex Ferguson and United captain, Bryan Robson. Here's an account in the words of all the three principal characters of the whole episode:

Sir Alex Ferguson 

I had been determined to bring Paul over to United ever since he had tortured us with a devastating performance for Newcastle at St James' Park. We sent out the powerful midfield of Moses, Robson and Whiteside that day but the 21 year old Gascoigne outplayed them, crowning his precocious display by patting Remi Moses on the top of the head like a headmaster mildly rebuking one of his pupils ... What a performance, and what a player! 'I'm going to sign him,' I told my assistant, Archie Knox, on the way home.

The fact that he never wore the red shirt was his mistake, not ours. As far as I am concerned, I had a solid promise that he would sign for me and I think that his change of mind hurt both of us. I wonder if his advisers ever consider what a boob they made, taking a lad of Paul's background and temperament to London. Maybe his self-destructive nature would have brought him trouble anywhere, but it is my belief that if he had signed for United he would not have had nearly as many problems as he had in London. I know managing him would have been no joyride but the hazards that went with the talent would never have put me off. I still don't know Paul well but at our meetings I warmed to him. You feel you want to be like an older brother or a father to him. You might want to shake him, or give him a cuddle, but there is certainly something infectious that gets you involved with him. To this day I regret being denied the chance to help him to make better use than he did of his prodigious abilities.

Bryan Robson

The only time that he (Fergie) really went for me was in a match against Newcastle. Again, it was half-time and we were losing 1-0 but this time I had been on from the start and I was having a poor game. They had Paul Gascoigne playing opposite me and Norman and we couldn't get near him. Gazza was different class. I could see Fergie was going to come for me and as soon as he started shouting and raging I got up. Before he could get across the dressing room to me, I was across to him, raging back. 'Do you think I want to play as badly as I am in front of all my family and mates? I'm trying, Gaffer, but the kid's not bad.' 

As manager of Boro, Robbo signed Gazza from Rangers

One player that the gaffer didn't get (in 1988) was Paul Gascoigne, which was a pity for us and for Gazza. I was into Gazza's ribs about coming to us because I thought he would have been brilliant for United and Old Trafford was the perfect stage for him. He annoyed the boss because he said he would sign for us and then went to Tottenham. I seem to remember he told the Press at the time that he felt he would be overshadowed by me, which was rubbish. I'm sure we would have been great together. He would have got on with all the lads. There is also a suggestion that he felt intimidated by Fergie, but I don't think that was the reason he decided against United. As Gazza says in his book, he wanted to buy his mam and dad a house and the extra money Spurs offered up front enabled him to do that. Gazza now admits to me that he should have joined United and his career would have benefited. He knows he missed out big-style. He would have been one of the main players in the side the gaffer built and he probably wouldn't have got into so much trouble off the pitch. He found the bright lights of London too hard to resist and, of course, it's easier to get lost in a city the size of London. You're more likely to get noticed in Manchester, as a few of us discovered! You knew that if the gaffer found out what you were up to, you were going to get hammered. I played with Gazza for England and had him at Middlesbrough, but I just wish we'd been side by side at United. He had fantastic talent.

Paul Gascoigne

Eventually, Newcastle got the message that I wanted to leave and wouldn't be signing another two-year contract. They officially gave their permission for my advisers to speak to Tottenham. Alex Ferguson found out what Spurs were prepared to offer me. They couldn't match it, apparently, but said that I'd more than make up the shortfall in win bonuses if I came to Man United. Fergie saw me as the natural successor to Bryan Robson, or so I was told, though later on, when I told Robbo this, I learned that this wasn't the story he'd heard. 

Fergie had discussions with my lawyer, Mel Stein, as if he was certain I would sign for them. The figures bandied around seemed enormous at the time, though they were nothing like those that change hands today. All I was really interested in was being able to buy a house for my mam and dad. In Fergie's autobiography, this somehow got turned into me saying that the club had to buy a house for them, but this wasn't so.

I hadn't actually met Terry Venables, the Spurs manager, yet. I agreed to go down to London to be introduced to him at Mel's office in Mayfair. I sat in a room with El Tel, cuddling a giant talking bear called Teddy Ruxpin, which Mel and Len Lazarus, my accountant, had given me for my 21st birthday. I let Teddy do most of the talking. I don't think Terry Venables could really believe it, but at least he could see what he might be getting for his money.

For my part, I was very impressed by what Venables had to say, especially when he told me that if I came to him, and was trained by him, I would be sure to get into the full England team. That mattered to me even more than the money being offered.

Paul Gascoigne with Terry Venables

I didn't know what to do. I still hadn't decided against Manchester United. In fact, if anything I was veering towards them. I thought I'd feel more at home if I stayed in the north. Going south would be a big change. 

I was invited by Fergie to come and look round Old Trafford. I set out to drive myself to Manchester, but changed my mind and didn't go that day. I was in a very confused state. 

Fergie phoned to say that he was about to go on holiday, but he really did want me to sign for him. I have to admit I did tell him on the phone, 'Don't worry, go on your holiday, and when you come back, I'll sign for you.' I know he was furious when I didn't, as he has since revealed. I just couldn't make up my mind. One day I would feel I should go to Old Trafford and the next I wasn't at all sure.

Irving Scholar of Spurs then made a smart move. He got Glenn Roeder to talk to me. We met in a pub in Newcastle and Glenn told me it would be good at Spurs. This only added to my confusion. I went down to London to talk to Irving Scholar and I was most impressed by his enthusiasm. He seemed to be a real football fan. Everyone at the club was friendly and not at all stuck up, as I had thought they might be. There didn't seem to be a lot of difference between Geordies and Cockneys.

Mel tried to get hold of Fergie, by now away on holiday, to ask if Man United would match the terms Spurs were offering, but he couldn't get through. Mobile phones were not then as good as they are now, especially when it came to international calls.

Irving Scholar was offering me a very good deal, and lots of extras. Tottenham were then sponsored by Hummell, and I was wearing their boots at the time, so that was another factor. Chris Waddle had convinced me I'd like it at White Hart Lane. I liked the look of Venables and Scholar, and they had offered me the best terms. So, in the summer of 1988, I signed for Spurs.

I'm sure Fergie thought I'd behaved like a stupid little bastard, double-crossing him, and many people feel he's never forgiven me. He sent me a letter saying I'd been a silly boy, and he'd believed me when I'd promised I would join Man United. I don't know where that letter is now. There's no doubt he was upset at the time, but he later invited me to play in his testimonial, and I agreed. And he gave me a watch, which I still have somewhere. As for me, I never hold grudges against anyone or any club.


After Tottenham, Gazza had a four year spell at the Rome based Serie A club, Lazio. Having fallen out with the club, Gazza contacted Fergie to sign him; however this time the gaffer wasn't interested. 

Talking to Sky News in March 2009, Gazza said:

"Maybe if I had joined Man United, I might have still been there. I don't know, you just look at these players and the squad of young kids that play, young Rooney that's there, the Neville Brothers and Becks, the way he (Ferguson) just brought them on and there are so many.I got invited to the academy and it is a magnificent place and you can see the way he treats his players, he treats them with respect but he also makes men out of boys. It took me six years to get back talking to Sir Alex, I called him from Lazio and asked him if he would sign me. He was with Eric Cantona and he said he would see what Eric Cantona was going to do but I think everyone knows if you do something to Sir Alex Ferguson the way I did you don't get a second chance."


Over the years, Gazza has singled out various United players for exemplary praise. He mentions most of them in his book among the footballers he has most admired in his life:
BRYAN ROBSON For me, the best player among my contemporaries, the best I ever played alongside, was Bryan Robson. When he was captain of England, it always felt so good knowing he was there. He could do everything: he worked all over the park and was an inspiration. I admired him so much. I think he was the greatest in the world in his position.

PETER BEARDSLEY I've always been a great admirer of Peter Beardsley, and not just because he is a friend and former team-mate, but because he had such natural talent. Beardsley was so clever. He could open up the hardest defence.
ROY KEANE The greatest footballer of my generation still playing (in 2004) is Roy Keane. He's getting on now, and has had lots of injuries, but currently he remains the best in his position anywhere. I remember first encountering him when he was at Nottingham Forest. Quite a few people in football had been talking about him, so I gave him a roasting that day, dominating the midfield. Which, of course, he will deny. During that match, to wind him up, I said to him, 'I thought you were supposed to be the next Paul Gascoigne.'
DAVID BECKHAM Of today's players, I admire Beckham, of course. We all know about his free kicks and passing. You could see that talent from a young age. He doesn't beat people by dribbling, but his vision is incredible. I also admire him for the way he's handled the Press. He's taken his share of stick and bad publicity, but he's used the media to his own advantage, which is something I never managed. He's coped with his troubles the right way. Whatever his problems with Alex Ferguson at Man United, he never criticized or badmouthed the manager after he left. 

WAYNE ROONEY Of the new generation, Wayne Rooney is the outstanding player so far. People have described him as a younger version of me. I suppose he is, in a way, though fame and success have come to him at a younger age than they did to me. He became a household name at 17 years of age. I first saw Rooney when he was 14, when I was at Everton, and this lad came on as a sub for the Under 17s. They were 1-0 down before. Wayne was brought on, but he scored 2 goals , and they won 2-1. I said to Colin Harvey, who was running the Youth Academy, 'This is some player.' So I knew of his existence long before the general football public had got to hear about him.

No comments:

Post a Comment