A once-brilliant footballer who very nearly fell off the edge, Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne is now trying to claw his way back up in Britain.
So early on in the new Premiership season and we are seeing those all too familiar sights again.
No, not Arsenal topping the league, or a newly-promoted side struggling at the other end, rather the all too recognisable image of Paul Gascoigne trying to revive his faltering career.
In a career that has seen more ups and downs than a day outing to a theme park “Gazza” has added the Wolverhampton Wanderers reserve side to a long list of teams he has appeared for.
Even at this level he has found it hard going, admitting: “This is my pre-season training,” and even conceding: “I’ve noticed on the pitch the lads are a lot sharper than me.”
Paul Gascoigne, who has made 57 appearances for England, began his career as a 16 year-old apprentice at Newcastle United.
It was after his £2m move from Newcastle to Tottenham Hotspurs, then managed by Terry Venables, in 1988 that he made his England debut coming on as a substitute against Denmark at Wembley.
It would be a short time playing for England before Gazza would go on to become world famous.
After guiding his country to the World Cup semi-finals in Italy, he couldn’t hide his emotions when he got booked when England played against Germany, a punishment that would have ruled him out of the final if England had got there.
This wasn’t to be the case though, England were knocked out on penalties, which saw another emotional outpour from the Geordie.
Even so, he returned to England a national hero.
Things were to take a turn for the worse a year later for him.
The long downward loop
After taking Spurs to the FA Cup final with a superb 30-yard free kick against North London rivals Arsenal, Gazza committed a horrific challenge on Nottingham Forest’s Gary Charles, leaving himself with a career threatening injury.
The damage done to his cruciate knee ligaments almost saw his £5.5 million move to Lazio cancelled.
The move eventually went through in 1992 but Gascoigne struggled to adjust to Italian lifestyle and his football suffered.
Further injuries, including a broken leg, while in Italy hindered his career further.
In 1995, he decided to cut his losses and return home joining Walter Smith’s Glasgow Rangers.
It was while he was at the Scottish club that Gazza performed one of his most memorable moments on the football pitch.
Unfortunately, for the Rangers fans it was against their country while playing for England at Euro 96.
With England 1-0 ahead, Gazza lifted the ball over the head of Colin Hendry before volleying the ball past Scotland keeper Andy Goram at his near post to send Wembley delirious and England through.
Despite this success his career began a gradual nose-dive that over time got steeper.
He made another big money move, this time returning to the North-East with Middlesbrough for £3 million but failed to impress then England manager, Glenn Hoddle, enough to be included in his squad for the France 98 World Cup.
Gazza’s career was on the down. In 2000, he teamed up with Walter Smith again, this time at Everton, but failed to hold down a first team spot.
His time at Everton came to an end in 2002 when Everton sacked Smith and Gazza spent the remaining part of the season on loan at first division Burnley.
This also failed to work out for him and he became a free agent at the end of the season.
Talking about the end to his Everton career, Gazza said: “Someone at Everton has been stabbing me in the back. I have a suspicion about who it was, and it’s best if I keep it to myself.”
Offers for Gascoigne’s services came in from as far away as Dubai and America, and he ended up choosing the Chinese side, Gansu Tianma.
Zhong Bohong, manager of Gansu said at the time: “We picked him because he is a professional. We’d like him to be a spiritual leader.”
Gascoigne’s time in China was short-lived and he soon became a free agent again. It was at this point he spoke to former England teammate Paul Ince and got his chance with Wolves.
The demons take over
It was the disappointment of being left out of Hoddle’s France 98 squad that affected his personal life and led to the downturn in his playing career.
Gazza admitted that he stood on a train station after being omitted from the England squad and contemplated suicide.
The realisation of his unfulfilled potential and personal problems had taken its toll on him.
While at Everton, manager Walter Smith convinced Gazza to go public and admit he was an alcoholic after checking himself into an Arizona clinic for alcoholism.
Former teammate and friend Paul Merson said: “Sometimes he would sit there and drink a bottle of wine and have a fag on the way to training.”
It was this alcoholism that saw the end of Paul’s marriage to wife Sheryl. After coming home from a night drinking he turned to domestic violence.
Gascoigne’s troubles didn’t end there.
While many former teammates recollect amusing stories of Paul cutting up players’ Armani suits and breaking wind at press conferences, psychiatrists look at his behaviour as signs of mental illness.
Many psychiatrists who have monitored his behaviour believe he has the symptoms of a condition known as the Attention Deficit Disorder.
Others also look at his unprovoked outbursts and twitches and put this down to the condition known as Tourette’s Syndrome – a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary and sudden movements or even illogical chatter.
While many monitor his behaviour, others review his performances on the pitch and some judge him on his private life, there is no doubt that Paul John Gascoigne is a complex person, blessed with immense talent, caught in the hard job of being an icon to millions of people.
Facing the difficult decision to fight against the odds to build his fitness up and play at the top level of football again or retire from the game and go out gracefully, Gazza is doing the one thing we expect of him, playing the game with a smile on his face.