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Walter Smith on signing Gascoigne


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In an exclusive extract from The Big Interview with Graham Hunter podcast, Walter Smith explains how he persuaded Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne to move to Glasgow.

There are two players, in particular, who played fantastic football for you: Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. How did you sell them the package of playing for Rangers?

'We had a team which had played exceptionally well for three years before I took over as manager, but Graeme [Souness] and I were in the process of changing the team. When Graeme left I continued that process and I started to say that we had to find an extra spark. So I looked around and, all of a sudden, I read in a newspaper that Gascoigne was leaving Lazio.

'I had met him on holiday the year before, in Florida; he was in the same hotel. He didn't know who I was, but that was Paul. I had my two boys with me and they obviously knew who he was. He had been wandering about the beach and started to play football with the kids, so I got to know him.

'I sat down with the chairman [David Murray] and said that I had an opportunity to sign Gascoigne. He was coming back so I said that we should have a look at him. It was just after the mid-90s when English clubs started to get away from us in terms of finance, but clubs like Rangers and Celtic could still compete. The chairman got in touch with the president at Lazio and said that we were interested in signing Gascoigne. He said OK, that was fine. There were a number of English clubs interested and Lazio were going to transfer him at the end of the season, so the chairman asked if we could speak to Paul and they said OK.

'It was the end of the season; I got on a flight to Rome and the people at Lazio gave me his address. He stayed in the hills outside Rome, so I got in a taxi and went up. I doorstepped him.'

I didn't realise that. I thought the process of signing a player like Paul Gascoigne would have been a lot more complex than simply turning up at his front door.

'It wasn't even a matter of watching Paul Gascoigne play, because he was injured. He had been out with a broken leg for most of that season.

'So, I went up and chapped on his door. I heard the quad bike. I didn't know that's what it was at the time, but I heard this machine coming up and suddenly there was Paul. 

He looked at me and said: 'What are you doing here?' And I said: 'I'm here to try and get you to sign for Rangers.' He said: 'OK.' I'm not kidding. That's what he said: 'OK'.

'I asked if the people at Lazio had told him that I was coming over to speak to him but he hadn't been told. I was actually very fortunate because I had gone there the day before he was going away on holiday. So we had a very interesting day at his place, then I got in a car, went to the airport and flew back.

'His agents at the time wanted him to go to an English club but, true to his word, he said that he was going to sign for Rangers. And he stuck it out. It was great.'

When I spoke to Chris Waddle, he spoke about sharing a room with Paul on England trips and talked about Paul's throwing arm. Apparently, if the hotel was in a public area, Paul would buy boxes of eggs, sit by the window and pick people off like a sniper. When it came to managing a character like him, you must have needed a lot of patience.

'When you take Paul Gascoigne, you take him knowing what he is like. There is no use complaining about it. You sit the other boys down and say: 'Look, he will probably get away with more than the rest of you will, but he will win us football matches.'

'He was never bad; it was stupid things. They would just happen to him. They would just come into his head and the repercussions were always left to me or whoever, and I must say that [Rangers assistant manager] Archie Knox handled him fantastically well and kept him well out of my road on the majority of those occasions.

'I would put an arm around him. But I also had to be the other way with him. That would work for a while and then he would lapse back into the way he was, but nobody can take away the fact that he was one of the most instinctively talented players of that generation.

'I met Billy Connolly once and he asked how I was getting on with Gascoigne and, as usual, at the mention of the name you start to laugh. Billy said to me: 'Walter, always remember that you have to live with the genius. The genius will never live with you.' I have always remembered that statement. That was Gazza.

'Everybody has had to live with him, on his time. But what he brought to us, in terms of his football, was fantastic.

And what about Brian Laudrup? You actually played against his father, Finn, in 1977, in a match between FC Copenhagen and Dundee United. You came across the son 17 years later. How did that come about?

'When we signed Brian 'you couldn't have two more different types of people than Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne. Brian was unhappy in Italy because of the way of life, the intensity of it all. The fans were on top of the players all the time, everywhere they went. That was something which Brian didn't like.

'One of our scouts had told us about Brian Laudrup and said that he was going to be available. Brian had been at AC Milan, on loan from Fiorentina' he was going back to Fiorentina, but he didn't want to. We thought: 'Well, why not?'

So, again, we got in touch with the club and Fiorentina gave us permission to talk to him. I went and met Brian, sat down and spoke to him. He said that he wanted to come to Scotland to see what it's like and where he would live.

'He came to Helensburgh. Brian was a home-loving, quiet guy and he enjoyed it in Helensburgh because he could go home and nobody bothered him. He was just allowed to go and play his football, and he had a fantastic input for us. He was great.

'Brian enjoyed the freedom to play which we gave him and he paid us back with a number of goals and fantastic performances. He could do anything. He could have been a defender if he wanted to. He could tackle. You never saw the tackling aspect in the games because that wasn't his forte, but you could see it in training. He also had fantastic skills, he could pass, he could dribble: he was brilliant.'

There have to have been days when you are sitting on the bench, no matter what way the game is going, and you think: 'I signed that guy and that's the right guy for this team. That's beautiful football.' That must have been how you felt about each of those players.

'There are few players who, as a manager, you always hoped would get on the ball. I would hope that those two, Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup, would get on the ball, because they would do something which you didn't know was going to happen.

'They brought a spark to a team which badly needed it and they saw us through some difficult years in the end to try and win nine in a row. That was a big thing: to equal Celtic's achievement.'

â— The full interview can be heard on Monday's episode of The Big Interview with Graham Hunter. Search for this and archive interviews on iTunes, all podcast apps and other online platforms


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I didn't think Gazza would have needed much persuasion, he said in an interview he was given a list of teams that were interested in him, he thought it wasn't us when Rangers were mentioned but another Rangers, when he found out it was Glasgow Rangers he said he had to talk with us and couldn't turn us down.

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58 minutes ago, Blue Nosed Babe said:

I think Gazza was happiest when he was with us.

I'm sure he's said before the happiest he was during his career was with Newcastle and Rangers. It's a shame he can't stay on the right track for long, as Smith, McCoist and other former teammates have all said in the past that they'd be fine getting him in coaching young players, as Gazza lives to be around the game, if they could rely on him to stay sober. 

Still wish nothing but harm on the News Corp lot for their part in pushing the guy further down. 

One of the best players I've ever seen in a Rangers jersey. 

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He got slated up here by the press, sure he was a bit off the wall, but our media should have been celebrating a player off his Calibre playing in this country.

theres not been a player since him in this league that comes anywhere near even close to lacing his boots 

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Who else dyed their hair blonde? :lol: 

one of my favourite memories of Gazza is the 1996 league cup final.  2-0 up, then gazza and mccoist had a wee set to on the pitch after hearts pulled got back in the game.  Apparently they nearly came to blows at half time and Smith pinned Gazza up against the dressing room door and told him to go and get a brandy.  He came out and scored two fucking belters and won us the cup. :lol: 

i seen the day he's said he's winning his battle, I hate to say it but I've heard it all before and I'm sure it won't be long until he's in the papers for the wrong reasons again. Still I pray I'm wrong, but I'll always remember him for his playing days, not his alky days.  Hero. 

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