Well, it seems that everyone's favourite little feeshy-on-a-dishy, Paul 'Gascoigne' Gazza, has finally lost the plot. Following his departure as manager of non-league Kettering Town at the start of this week, he did what any self-respecting recovering alcoholic would do: he went to a presentation about the dangers of drink and drugs and promptly smacked a photographer in the face.
With all the hand-wringing about George Best's recent departure from this mortal coil, comparisons are inevitable between the two supremely talented but fatally flawed footballers. One thing is certain: on the football field, Gazza genuinely was the George Best of his generation. He had perfect touch, poise and balance, could read a game superbly from midfield, and had a killer pass and free kick that dazzled defenders and goalkeepers alike. Off the field, they were rather dissimilar characters. Whilst Best initially tried hard to avoid the limelight and ended up drinking as a way of ingratiating himself with people in pubs and clubs, Gascoigne loved the attention that his prodigious talent brought him. For Gascoigne, drinking was just part of the lads' culture in which he grew up, and stunts such as the plastic comedy breasts of the post-Italia '90 open-topped bus and the 'dentist's chair' antics of the pre-Euro '96 trip to the Far East were just a bit of fun, a way to let off steam and spent his millions.
And would we not prefer it that way? If I was going to spend a night on the town with a member of the England midfield of the generation, I know I'd much rather spend it with Gazza than with, say, David Platt, who I believe makes even Neil Kinnock look interesting. Our current culture of celebrity adulation means that there is far more appreciation for Gascoigne's flawed genius and drunken antics than there is for Alan Shearer's undoubted footballing abilities - Shearer doesn't even have more than one goal celebration, so lacking is he of any spark of interest.
Unfortunately, however, there are some parts of Gascoigne's character that simply can't be excused. The shocking tackle on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final [left] was not only dangerous to Charles, it could have ended Gascoigne's career as he tore the cruciate ligaments in his knee. Far worse, as his alcohol problems deepened he became increasingly violent towards his wife, who was left with a black eye and bruised upper body following a moment of drunken rage on his part. We may like our heroes to be 'colourful', but not colour others black and blue.
Still, he remains one of the most naturally gifted footballers of the 1990s. Football fans are a strange bunch: we will forgive a player almost anything, as long as they continue to wear our team's strip every week. For example, El-Hadji Diouf, a forward for my beloved team Bolton Wanderers, has recently been arrested and sentenced for spitting at an opposing fan. He then followed this up by getting caught drink-driving. Both of these acts are stupid, abhorrent and dangerous to other people. But I'll still chant his name and cheer his every move on the pitch as long as he plays for Bolton.
Similarly, posterity will treat the likes of George Best and Paul Gascoigne well. Fans will remember them as the greatest players they've ever seen, despite their appalling treatment of women and the dreadful waste of their true potential. When Gascoigne dies, presumably in a similar manner to Best, like most otherwise sensible football fans I'll gloss over the bad bits and recall the highlights. Such as this, the wonder goal against Scotland in Euro '96:
Poise, power and skill: Gascoigne at his peak of tarnished genius.