With England’s sizzling run to the Euro 96 semi-finals still fresh in the memory for many fans, we continue our What If series focusing on one of the greatest talents the game has seen…..
By Jefferson Lake
Last Updated: 28/05/20 9:21pm
Paul Gascoigne’s studs continue to stir the emotions when 30 years of hurt for England fans were extended on a balmy night at Wembley in 1996.
What actually happened…
England and Germany. Euro 96. Two European heavyweights. Colossal rivals. It’s 1-1 in extra-time with a place in the final awaiting.
The ball is floated to Alan Shearer lurking on the edge of the box. He fires the ball across from the right which zips past the entire German defence and goalkeeper Andreas Kopke. Paul Gascoigne is lurking at the back post. He hurls himself at the ball. It can’t be the winner, can it? His studs kiss the ball and it dribbles to safety.
Both teams have more chances but it’s agony for the thousands waving their St George’s flags as Gareth Southgate’s scuffed penalty is saved and Andreas Moller drills past David Seaman.
Germany go on to become European champions with a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic.
What if Gascoigne’s toe had reached the ball and he’d poked it past Kopke to give England a 2-1 lead?
With a raucous Wembley crowd, the Germans are stunned, crestfallen and England ease into the final with Gazza grabbing the headlines.
Having displayed an amazing ability to keep the ball in England’s previous Euro 96 games, Gascoigne, now playing at Rangers after a spell with Lazio, is at his magical best with Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman buzzing around him.
“We have to start talking about Paul as one of the greatest of all time now,” beams manager Terry Venables in England’s post-match press conference.
Time to face the magic feet and flowing Czech locks of Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Patrik Berger in the final.
Gascoigne doesn’t score, but he runs the show, laying on Shearer’s opener and then clipping in for a Teddy Sheringham header with a cheeky rabona.
Thirty years of hurt for England buried. Pizza advert plans with Gareth Southgate in the bin. Three weeks of toil on the pitch and all that public pressure is over. And after dominating the tabloids in the build-up, Gascoigne disappoints the photographers by opting for an armchair rather than a dentist’s furniture.
Gazza and El Tel find themselves in high demand. Venables had already planned to leave England’s hotseat in the summer, but is now seen as a master tactician for his revolutionary ‘Christmas tree’ – and Europe’s big clubs begin flirting.
El Tel comes calling
Despite his successful spell at Barcelona and deep associations with all things Catalan, Real Madrid win the race to recruit Venables, shelving their plans to bring in Fabio Capello.
Venables is desperate to bring old pal Gascoigne to the Bernabeu but cannot compete with the financial muscle of the Premier League clubs who are now desperate for the Rangers star. Instead he snaps up Sheringham from Tottenham and partners him upfront with Davor Suker.
Sheringham had been a target all summer for Manchester United, who had won the double in 1996, seeking the final piece of the jigsaw to conquer Europe. Upset at missing out on Shearer (1-0 Kevin Keegan), Sir Alex Ferguson gets his boss to throw the cheque book towards Glasgow and they get Gascoigne for a world-record fee of £15.1m.
He’s an instant success at United, forming a dynamic partnership with Roy Keane in the middle, with Andrew Cole and rising star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer banging in the goals.
A young David Beckham is miffed at his lack of first-team opportunities and is shipped off on loan back to Preston North End in the bottom tier.
Eric Cantona shirts become collector’s items as Gazza mania takes over Old Trafford. He and skipper Keane are pivotal for a United team who come within a game of wrapping up an unbeaten Premier League season, losing to Aston Villa on the final day after resting their entire first-team squad for a major European encounter.
Having swept aside all before them domestically, Fergie is 90 minutes away from his ‘Holy grail’ with Juventus awaiting in the Champions League final at the Olympic Stadium in Munich.
United are buoyant after smashing Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals, but Fergie is fuming after just 11 minutes when Alessandro Del Piero climbs all over right-back Gary Neville to nod in the opener.
Gascoigne has a subdued first half, perhaps distracted by the unsavoury banners displayed by the Juve fans, but he springs into life after the break and after a mazy run into the box, dinks a through-ball for Dwight Yorke to slide in the equaliser.
Extra-time looks inevitable as the Italians play keep-ball and United’s players chase shadows. The legs are heavy but as the ball is won back and worked wide to Cole on the right, Gascoigne’s feet ignite.
He bursts into the box and as Cole’s cross-shot slides through the Juventus defence and past goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, Gazza launches himself.
He connects with his left boot to smash it in and the red half of Munich go crazy. Fergie and Brian Kidd skip across the German turf and are soon giving piggy-backs to Gascoigne and Cantona who are juggling the shiny trophy with each other.
The offers come flooding in during the summer and on a walk near a Salford hillside Gascoigne reflects on his future.
He is stunned by a statue built by United fans over-looking the city – dubbed their own ‘angel of the north’ – with its face bearing an uncanny resemblance to his own.
Gazza picks up his phone and makes a call to France. “Bonjour Eric. I am sorry. I am staying for another season at United. My movie career will have to go on hold.”
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Source : Sky Sports