What if Man United had signed Gazza in 1988 and not Tottenham?

first_imgtalkSPORT looks at key moments in football history, where events could so easily have taken a different course and asks, what if? This week we ponder what if Manchester United signed Gazza and not Tottenham? Giggs, with the Premier League trophy alongside Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Sharpe Gazza had agreed to join Man United from Newcastle before changing his mind and moving to Spurs One of many Gazza-inspired merchandise 7 7 English football was already alert to the talent this irrepressible player possessed and Ferguson knew he had to get him. “He was the best player of his era, a breath of fresh air because he played with a smile.”And he almost had his man. Everything appeared to be agreed and Gazza even told Fergie to go on holiday, relax and get some sun because when he got back he’d be a United player.“Off I go, and I’m lying by the pool when there is a Tannoy for me to take a call,” Fergie explained. “It was [chairman Martin Edwards] telling me Tottenham had [signed him instead] by buying Paul’s mum and dad a house in the north east.”Not only that, Spurs also bought his sister a sunbed! “She should have got a spray tan and I would have a few more medals,” Gazza later joked.So Gazza – PFA Young Player of the Year for the 1987/88 season – moved to London in 1988 to become a Tottenham player and his star quality then secured a place in England’s 1990 World Cup squad.After Italia ’90 he was probably the most famous man in Britain. Certainly the most loved – my parents even bought me ‘GAZZA!’ The board game because I was so obsessed with the man – they stopped short of the shell suit, mind. His wild swipe at Charles’ shins shredded the ligaments in his right knee. His cup final was a write-off, but so was an entire chapter of his career: a big-money move to Lazio was called off and he didn’t kick a ball for a year and a half, exacerbating the injury in a nightclub scuffle some months later.The thing is, he should not even have been on the pitch to make the challenge in the first place when, less than a minute into the game, he clattered Garry Parker. Think of Nigel de Jong on Xabi Alonso and you get the picture.It should have been red, but he wasn’t even booked and a pumped up Gazza was free to carry on; he ended the day watching the final from his hospital bed; Gary Mabbutt and his Spurs pals later bringing him the FA Cup trophy to him.In addition the FA Cup, he played 57 times for England, won the treble with Rangers, strutted his stuff in Serie A and scored one of the greatest goals ever seen at Wembley. Imagine Gascoigne linking up with Robson, or Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona? That’s before mentioning the talented academy graduates who came through the ranks at Old Trafford such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.“It was a massive missed opportunity,” Gascoigne lamented. “Obviously I worked with a great manager in Terry Venables, don’t get me wrong, but I just think about the players around my age when I had the chance to sign for [United] and what they’ve achieved.“It’s not just on the field, but off the field as well. [Fergie] doesn’t just work with them at the club, he works with them when they’re not at the club.”Yes, if anyone could keep a young, talented footballer who liked a drink in check then it was Fergie.But this isn’t to say he would not have had the same temptations in Manchester as in London. What about ‘Madchester’ and everything else that went with it?Ferguson, though, ruled that part of the country and seemed to know everything that went on in the city. This is a man who once marched around to a house party where Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe were enjoying themselves and ordered everyone out so he could berate the pair and ultimately help them see the light. 7 Gazza wrecked his knee in the 1991 FA Cup final The midfielder was easily the best midfielder of his generation center_img 7 The storyIt was 1987 and Man United, a year into Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as manager, were playing relegation-threatened Newcastle in the First Division.In midfield for Man United were Norman Whiteside, Bryan Robson and Remi Moses, “all great footballers,” Fergie told David Frost in an interview.“And he just tore them apart.” He was talking about Newcastle’s 20-year-old rising star Paul Gascoigne. One of Sir Alex Ferguson’s big regrets is not signing Gazza Gazza celebrates his goal for England against Scotland at Euro 96 But despite his achievements there could have been more. A lot more.“Alan Shearer is one I wish I’d signed, but for me the most disappointing of all was Paul Gascoigne,” Fergie said.But what if he HAD signed him?“I want to be successful and that means leaving,” Gascoigne told local newspaper, The Chronicle, shortly before his Newcastle exit.“I feel it would also do me a power of good to physically leave the area. The pressures have been getting to me.”Let’s not muck around here. Fergie was not exaggerating the player’s class. For those who never saw him play, he was a true great. You’d pay to watch him warm up.His dribbling was immense, his passing superb and his goals utter class. “You didn’t know what Gazza would do next, but you knew it would be good,” as Daniel Storey writes in his book, Portrait of an Icon.“Losing out on him was the biggest disappointment of all, and he admits it was a mistake. Moving down to London can’t be easy for any 19-year-old lad,” Fergie explained.“We could have taken London out the road of him. We had Bobby Charlton, a Geordie. We had Bryan Robson, a Geordie.“We had a structure of players who could have helped him – given him some discipline.” 7 7 7 And it only got better for him after that with his goals in the 1990/91 FA Cup campaign catapulting Spurs to the final, however, here is where things began to unravel. It should have been the biggest day of his career, but it was one of the bleakest in football terms. Early in his United career Roy Keane was known to enjoy big sessions at the local – as a lot of the first team did – but he quickly heeded his manager’s warnings about boozing, with Ferguson threatening to fine any player caught sharing a pint with the midfielder following one incident in 1997.Quite simply, if you didn’t tow the line you’d be out.As crazy as it sounds, we should remember Man United were not the all-powerful club you see today. Historically, they were English heavyweights but in Gascoigne’s first season at Spurs, the London side finished sixth, while United were in eleventh and were still five years from winning a first league title since 1967.Ferguson certainly had a knack for being able to focus players; the team was always more important and while Gascoigne had no problem training and performing, what about when the floodlights were off?He mentioned about the work he did with players off the pitch, but the manager can only do so much and once you test Ferguson’s patience too many times, you’ve had it. Ask Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham or latterly, the supremely talented Ravel Morrison, the best young talent Ferguson had ever seen at United. Morrison, 25, spent last season on loan at Mexican club Atlas.As usual, it’s crucial to point out this series deals in the hypothetical, but it’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?last_img read more