- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

There is complete anonymity in Major League Soccer. If English legend Paul Gascoigne wants to continue his remarkable career in obscurity, he's come to the right league.
Any day but yesterday, that is. A fit-looking Gascoigne began his week-long trial with D.C. United yesterday before the biggest media horde to descend on the team in some time. Seven television cameras and at least 25 reporters converged on RFK Stadium's auxiliary field to see if there is still magic in those highly publicized feet.
As far as soccer stars go, they don't come much bigger than Gascoigne, at 35 arguably the greatest attacking midfielder of the past 20 years. He's also a celebrity whose off-field exploits feed England's tabloids.
Gascoigne made a quick shopping trip Thursday to Pentagon City Mall and found just how popular he is in the colonies.
"It was nice that I was just walking along and nobody recognized me," Gascoigne said. "I enjoyed it, but I'm not here to walk around and be noticed, I'm here to play football."
Gascoigne's signing is far from a done deal though he will train with struggling United (6-10-2) until Wednesday. If "the Greatest" likes Washington and United, and the club is comfortable with him, a deal will be brokered with MLS. Gascoigne has six or seven offers pending from various clubs around the world.
United's players welcomed Gascoigne's presence because they knew it meant exposure. And if he's anything like his former self the one who was brilliant for Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio (Italy), Glasgow Rangers (Scotland), Middlesbrough and Everton that presence will translate into victories.
"At this point, we need something," United star forward Jaime Moreno said. "He's a famous player. It's going to be a good thing for the team. From day one, I said it was going to be good."
On United's training pitch, Gascoigne showed his wizardry with the ball. Although he's still a couple weeks away from being match fit, Gascoigne displayed the ball skills that earned him millions from some of the world's most storied clubs.
But those millions led Gascoigne on a path of destruction.
Gascoigne was raised in poverty in Newcastle, a working-class city in northeast England. When he was 8, his father became an invalid following a brain hemorrhage and the family survived on public assistance.
Coming from such an impoverished background has made Gascoigne a cult hero of sorts to England's indigent. Money brought on never-ending bouts with alcohol and spectacular off-field incidents.
When he played for Lazio, the local Neo-Fascist Party condemned such behavior as belching into a microphone. Yet in England, soccer hooligans emulate his behavior.
One of his more famous incidents was getting booted off England's 1998 World Cup team for drinking. In May of that year, Gascoigne ran into rocker Rod Stewart at a London nightclub. Photographers also were there and captured Stewart helping Gascoigne into the bathroom. When the pictures ran in the next day's newspapers, coach Glenn Hoddle, a born-again Christian, axed Gascoigne from the national team. Stewart then issued a public apology for being out drinking with Gascoigne.
"Had I known the outcome I would have said, 'No drinking for you tonight, Paul,'" Stewart said at the time of the incident. "But try telling Paul Gascoigne he can't have a drink. I did as reported, helped Paul to the toilet as he was a little wobbly on his feet."
There was another incident in which British newspapers ran photos of Gascoigne's wife with her arm in a sling and her face battered and bruised.
"I just want to be myself, I want a life," Gascoigne said. "I've done good things in my life and I've done bad things, things I've regretted. Now I have to put that behind me and try to look forward to life."
United coach Ray Hudson, who grew up in Newcastle like Gascoigne, said the player's reputation and possibly his career will be on the line if he blows up off the field. Gascoigne spent 12 weeks training in Cyprus, and it shows; that alone proves to Hudson that he is indeed serious about his game.
"It's the off-field stuff that is the concern, no question," Hudson said. "There's a great tune that can be played on an older fiddle. I'm placing my reputation in Paul's hands, basically. I've brought over wonderful ambassadors of the game in the likes of Alex Pineda Chacon and Ian Bishop. With Paul there are no lock, stock and-barrel guarantees. There just isn't. All I can do is go on his word."
Note Eliseo Quintanilla, United's 19-year-old Salvadoran forward, was granted a work visa yesterday and will start alongside Roy Lassiter for tonight's game against the New England Revolution at RFK Stadium.


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