Football management is an extraordinarily harsh business. Managers are judged in the harsh glare of the public eye, with debate over their shortcomings often being led by those that shout the loudest, regardless of whether those doing the shouting are right or not. Many people that we might have expected to be very effective managers have fallen at the first hurdle, and many of them have not been given a second chance. It feels extremely doubtful that the position of manager of a football club could be beneficial in any way for the wellbeing of an individual that has suffered from alcoholism or is understood to have mental health issues.
None of these concerns seem to have been taken into consideration in the matter of the possible appointment of Paul Gascoigne to the managerial position at Northern Premier League club Garforth Town. Gascoigne’s imminent appointment was announced at the weekend (although at the time of writing nothing has yet been concerned), but it has been a taxing couple of days for those that have been trying to figure out any conceivable ways in which such an appointment could be beneficial for either the club or the player – unless, of course, we factor in money as being the prime consideration behind the recent rumours.
The Garforth Town owner, Simon Clifford, has been here before. Clifford purchased the club in 2003, cleared its debts and forged close links with Brazilian football through his International Confederation of Futebol de Salão academies. He has also, however, earned the club something of a reputation for being the subject of publicity stunts. Careca, Socrates and Lee Sharpe, for example, have all appeared in the club’s yellow and blue kit. Clifford has insisted, however, that his interest in the appointment of Gascoigne is no publicity stunt:
This is not a publicity stunt. When we signed Socrates and Careca, that was. Everyone says they love Paul but nobody does anything about it. I want him to be an inspiration to someone who might have depression or problems in their lives. He’s walked through hell but he has kept on walking.
These are worthy sentiments, but it is worth asking the following question: if this isn’t a publicity stunt, what exactly is it? One alternative conclusion to reach would be that Clifford feels that Gascoigne is the best-suited individual to manage the club. It wouldn’t take long to shoot holes in this argument. It goes without saying that he is an alcoholic with likely mental health issues. It is also worth pointing out that his last spell in charge of a football club, at Kettering Town at the end of 2005, lasted for just thirty-nine days and was a more or less unmitigated disaster. He also has precious little experience of the level of football at which he would be coaching and it seems unlikely that he has any formal coaching qualifications. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in August, he replied, when asked what his options were, “Maybe doing my [coaching] badges because I’d love to give something back to the game”, which would seem to indicate that he hasn’t yet.
If there are serious and obvious question marks over his ability or aptitude towards coaching, then perhaps Clifford is considering using the managerial seat at his club part of a rehabilitation process for Gascoigne. It would be very generous of him if he was, but it is difficult to escape the belief that managing a club would be one of the worst lifestyle choices that Gascoigne could make for himself. How beneficial would it be to his mental health if, under his control, Garforth Town (and, with them sitting in fourteenth place in the league with just one win from their opening nine league matches of the season, this is hardly beyond the realms of possibility) were to go on a losing run? Would it not seem a more obvious choice to put him in a position, perhaps, with the youth development of the club, out of the spotlight, where he could actually have a while, possibly under supervision himself, to learn a little bit about coaching? Possibly he could even study for those coaching badges.
The third possibility is money and, no matter what Clifford says, this does still like a publicity stunt, especially while Gascoigne’s appointment remains unconfirmed. There would be obvious financial benefits to Garforth Town and, depending on the terms of contract that he could be offered, possible benefits for Gascoigne and his agent as well. If it is not a mere stunt and Clifford is serious about wanted to, “help Gazza… [and] give him a fresh start” (the words of Steve Nichol, who, somewhat confusingly, still seems to be the Garforth manager at the time of writing), then he needs to show the courage of his convictions, shield him from the worst excessses of the tabloid press and give him a lengthy contract in order to prove himself. Then, and only then, will the outside world not merely holding the opinion that this is a publicity stunt and no more.
Two groups of people have been highly evident throughout the adult life of Paul Gascoigne. The first is that which consists of those that have sought to use him for their own designs (whether financial or otherwise). The second is a general public that remembers the rare talent and energy with which he played football in his prime, recognises the enormous problems that he has had (many of which are self-inflicted) yet wants him to succeed and to pull through. It is a common enough problem for retired professional footballers to endure difficulties in adjusting to life once their playing careers have ended. Yet the overwhelming majority manage to find another life for themselves. It is to be hoped that Paul Gascoigne will face his demons down, but it is difficult to imagine that managing a football club, with all of its attendant stresses, will assist him in doing this in any practical way.