Today, we start the “What If” series. We will talk about players and events and Paul Gascoigne is the player to start with. What if Gazza agreed to join Manchester United?
Paul Gascoigne’s current mental health and financial problems have been well publicised. He had stints in a mental institution and has previously battled drinking problems as well as marital problems.
Not as well publicised is the fact Sir Alex Ferguson was interested in signing him for the Red Devils. Gascoigne visited the Manchester United youth academy as a youngster and spurned the opportunity to continue his football education under the tutelage of Sir Alex for reasons only he knows.
After this snub Gascoigne had yet another chance to join United after agreeing a fee with Newcastle United. Instead he joined Tottenham in 1988.
The question is what would have happened had he signed for Manchester United as a youngster?
The club is well known for his protective treatment of superstars like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Ryan Giggs and previously David Beckham. At the academy Gascoigne would have been just another youth team product with talent, the type United see year in and year out.
Ferguson for his part is known as a father figure who makes himself available to his players on a professional and personal level and would no doubt have advised Gascoigne, once he became a United first team regular, on how to cope with life under the spotlight. There’s no telling how Gascoigne would have turned out but Ferguson managed to tame maverick Frenchman Eric Cantona.
So why not Gascoigne?
Though the Red Devils youth academy is a production line one shouldn’t forget that all players are individuals. No-one can argue that Gascoigne deep down is a showman who aims to please and provoke. Would that have changed at United especially given the undying adulation of the Stretford End?
It is hard to say yet from what we do know about Gascoigne we know he would have been a huge star in the mould of David Beckham. The difference with superstars like Cantona and Beckham was that they were dedicated to their profession and despite their occasional problems on the pitch alcohol problems were unheard of. There is no doubt Gascoigne, under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson, would have improved his temperament and playing ability, in much the same way Wayne Rooney has, but maybe the maverick in Gascoigne deep down was deterred by the size of Manchester United and of being just another youth product.
Ultimately Gascoigne’s fate as a United player would have been decided not just by what he did on the pitch but from the headlines he brought to Manchester off it. Yes, his diet might have been altered by the Red Devils and perhaps he would have partied less and drank less. Then again the case of Lee Sharpe, a talented England winger in the 1990s of similar temperament, is testimony that individuals do stray from time to time. Sharpe never quite fitted into Ferguson’s way of doing things and was shipped off.
Had Gascoigne been in Manchester I suspect Ferguson would eventually have to ask one fundamental question. Do I tolerate the distractions he brings or do the club and player move on?
As he has demonstrated with stars like David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, no-one is bigger than the club and if Gascoigne’s ability was outweighed by his baggage he would have been off.
That is a more likely scenario than him doing a Ryan Giggs or a Gary Neville. These are guys that eat, live and breathe Manchester United red.
The bottom line is that Gascoigne’s self-destructive malaise has deep-seated roots that were probably in place before he visited the academy. The decision to abuse alcohol or use violence, domestically or otherwise, are actions no parent, let alone a football manager, are able to influence in the long term.
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