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EURO '96 spotlight: How brilliant was England's Paul Gascoigne?

UEFA.com pores over the career of Paul Gascoigne, the larger-than-life midfielder who shone for hosts England at EURO ’96.

EURO '96 highlights: Spotlight on Paul Gascoigne

One of the game’s great characters who was rarely out of the headlines, Paul Gascoigne was the most gifted English schemer of his generation. The midfielder's creativity and brilliance were there for all to see in front of his adoring home public as England reached the semi-finals of EURO '96.

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EURO ‘96

• England's build-up to their home tournament ended in controversy following a friendly in Hong Kong, with photos of boozing players, including Gascoigne, in a so-called 'dentist's chair' splashed over tabloid newspapers. A 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the EURO '96 opener – Gascoigne was substituted – hardly quelled the storm.

See how Gascoigne bamboozled Scotland at EURO '96

• England's fortunes changed in a matter of seconds as they beat Scotland 2-0 in their second group game. At 1-0, David Seaman saved Gary McAllister's penalty and moments later Gascoigne, then playing his club football north of the border with Rangers, sensationally doubled the lead by flicking the ball over Colin Hendry with his left foot and volleying past Andy Goram with his right. With customary cheek, he carried out a mock 'dentist's chair' celebration.

• Buoyed by that victory, England dismantled the Netherlands 4-1 to win the group in one of their best ever displays at a major finals. Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham both struck twice, with Gascoigne heavily involved in two of the goals as home fans started to believe the trophy was 'coming home'.

• Although goalkeeper Seaman stole the headlines as England edged past Spain 4-2 on penalties in the quarter-finals, Gascoigne again had a significant say. He created the hosts' best chance, which Shearer blazed over in normal time, before confidently dispatching the last penalty for the Three Lions.

Watch England cruise past the Oranje at EURO '96

• England came agonisingly close to a first major final since 1966 when they bowed out 6-5 on penalties to Germany in the semis. Shearer and Stefan Kuntz traded early goals but England were the better side, with Darren Anderton hitting the post and Gascoigne a stud's length from poking in Shearer's cross for the tournament's first ever Golden Goal. Gazza again scored in the shoot-out but Gareth Southgate's failure proved terminal for Terry Venables' men.

What you might not know

• His full name is Paul John Gascoigne, after his parents named him in tribute to Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles.

• Newcastle manager and 1966 FIFA World Cup winner Jack Charlton told Gascoigne he was too fat to play for his boyhood club and gave him two weeks to either get in shape or be released. Gascoigne spent ten days running in a black plastic bin liner after training to shed the pounds.

• Gascoigne's fame for practical jokes almost equalled his footballing talent. It started with tying shoelaces together at Newcastle, before graduating to stripping naked regularly at Lazio and leaving fish in a team-mate's car at Rangers. Unfortunately some pranks backfired, notably when he accidentally crashed the team bus at Middlesbrough.

• With England gripped by 'Gazzamania' after his scintillating displays at the 1990 World Cup, the 23-year-old took advantage by storming to No2 in the UK singles chart with Fog on the Tyne, a collaborative cover with Geordie band Lindisfarne.

• Gascoigne perhaps peaked during season 1990/91 when he scored six goals to help Spurs scoop the FA Cup. Winning strikes against Portsmouth and Notts County set the tone but his opener from 30 metres against Arsenal, in the first ever semi-final played at Wembley Stadium, was arguably the best free-kick witnessed at the venue. However, he suffered a serious knee injury 17 minutes into the final.

• The playmaker scored in nine games for England between 1989 and 1997 – the Three Lions won every match with an aggregate score of 30-2.

The moment Paul Gascoigne sent Wembley Stadium into raptures with his goal against Scotland
The moment Paul Gascoigne sent Wembley Stadium into raptures with his goal against ScotlandPopperfoto via Getty Images

• Gascoigne has a unique piece of history at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He once dented the iconic golden cockerel that sat proudly on top of White Hart Lane with an air rifle, yet when the club created a scaled-up replica for their new stadium they wanted it to be identical – including the imperfection caused by Gazza's tomfoolery.

What he said

"I could see Colin Hendry coming so I flicked it over his head and volleyed it. You can't teach kids that, it was pure instinct. I trained with Andy Goram every day, so I knew how to beat him. I knew I had to get over the ball and hit it low. The feeling when I scored was magnificent! I'm so glad I scored that goal."

"I've learnt and I just want to be respected for what I've achieved on the pitch. I know I haven't achieved much off it but I do know I've given pleasure to people watching me play football over the years."

Watch England's national anthem before facing Spain at EURO '96

"Despite what happened to me in the final, the whole cup run [in 1990/91] holds great memories for me. I was still buzzing after the World Cup – there wasn't anything I couldn't do. I scored loads of goals to get to us to Wembley and played the best football of my career along the way. I was fearless. I didn't sleep the night before the final and I was too hyped up, maybe. The rest is history."

"I'll tell you what my real dream is – I mean my absolute number one dream that will mean I die a happy man – I want to see a UFO. They're real. I don't care if you look at me like that. UFOs are a definite fact and I've got to see one soon."

What they said

"He was the best player of his era, a breath of fresh air because he played with a smile. Around 1987, when Newcastle were bobbing above the relegation zone, we played them and my three central midfielders that day were Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and Remi Moses – all great footballers, and he just tore them apart. Robbo and Whiteside were chasing him up and down the pitch and they couldn’t get near him."
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager

Relive the nail-biting shoot-out between Germany and England at EURO '96

"What made him special was the lack of fear in his game. He would try anything and he would never be scared that something would go wrong. And more than anything else, the love for showing off the abilities that he had, that's what lifts him above."
Gary Lineker, team-mate with Tottenham and England

"Not only could he pick a pass, he could go past two or three players – he was a genius with that football at his feet. He was also great for the dressing room: to have him once every four or five weeks, as I did when we went away with England, was great fun. He was a great lad and great to have around but first and foremost he was a great player."
Alan Shearer, team-mate with England

"No one could ever dislike Paul, he was so generous. If you ever said: 'Gazza, what a beautiful watch, where did you buy it?', he would take it off and give it to you."
Giuseppe Signori, team-mate at Lazio

"He ate ice cream for breakfast, drank beer for lunch and when injured he blew up like a whale. But as a player? Oh, beautiful, beautiful. I loved that boy. He was a genius, an artist, but he made me tear my hair out."
Dino Zoff, manager at Lazio

Paul Gascoigne's cheeky grin and dressing-room popularity were hallmarks of his career
Paul Gascoigne's cheeky grin and dressing-room popularity were hallmarks of his careerGetty Images

"In his prime he was one of the best players in the world. He glided with the ball in a way that made him virtually untouchable for opponents and he was a match-winner, who had great technique when striking the ball. He was also a great entertainer – on and off the pitch! A tremendous natural talent."
Brian Laudrup, team-mate at Rangers.

"He was always someone I looked up to for the way he played football and how good he was. I still think, to this day, he's the greatest England player."
Wayne Rooney, former England international

Final tally

International: 57 appearances, 10 goals
UEFA club competition (including qualifiers): 15 appearances, 2 goals
Domestic competition: 453 appearances, 108 goals