ALLY McCOIST, the Rangers manager, has spoken of his deep concern over the welfare of Paul Gascoigne and expressed fears that his former team-mate will prove to be beyond help unless he finds an inner strength to deal with his well-documented alcoholism.
McCoist was shocked when he picked up certain newspapers yesterday morning and was met by graphic photographs of the one-time Ibrox player's physical deterioration, alongside reports of him being taken to hospital near his rented home in Sandbanks, Dorset after being found intoxicated in the street.
Gascoigne, who played for Rangers between 1995 and 1998, went through an emergency rehabilitation programme in the United States last year - paid for by Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, ex-cricketer Ronnie Irani and radio disc jockey Chris Evans - and seemed to be making progress earlier this year following further treatment in clinics in Southampton and Arizona.
Harry Redknapp, the manager of Queen's Park Rangers, has already offered Gascoigne the chance to work with his youth team, but McCoist points out that he has had no shortage of concerned friends willing to help over the years.
"I saw the pictures and they are horrendous," he said. "I was utterly shocked. He just looks a poor soul and everyone has real, major concerns over where this is going to go.
"It goes without saying that everyone at Rangers, the players, the coaches and the fans are all praying for him. We can all do everything to help, but, at the same time, there has to be an inner strength and desire to help yourself. The vast majority of that will have to come from inside. That's what Paul will have to find.
"People have tried to help him and I certainly hope he is not beyond that. You can never give up. You just hope the help comes as soon as possible and that he takes the help and advice that's coming his way.
"He has an illness and people need to realise that. People are asked the question: 'You used to be an alcoholic?' and they will reply:
'No, I'm still an alcoholic.'
"It's a sickness and, like every other illness, you have to keep treating it. Gazza has progressed and, at times, he's look a lot healthier than this, but, sadly, he's taken a few steps back again."
Rangers have, in the past, attempted to offer Gascoigne
help, but McCoist admits he has become progressively more difficult to contact. "I haven't spoken to Gazza in a while," said McCoist. "I used to speak with
him occasionally, but he's always changing his number and it's hard to get hold of him. We've all tried to contact him. I know a lot of the boys down south that I speak to have tried to contact him, but you just can't get hold of him at times.
"He's an extremely complex character. There was always
that slight concern with regard
to what Paul would do after football because it was his life.
"He loved his fishing, but there
is only so much fishing you can do. That was therapeutic for him when he was playing.
"I don't know if he's still fishing, but he needs to find something that will fill his time and give him
a reason to keep going and live."
McCoist admits he finds it difficult to come to terms with these most recent images of Gascoigne when compared to the irrepressible figure who won two league titles and two cups in the heart of the Rangers midfield.
"As shocked as I was when
I saw the pictures, that's not
Paul Gascoigne for me," he said.
"Paul Gascoigne, for me, was scoring against Steaua Bucharest, scoring against Aberdeen and scoring against Scotland. That's Paul Gascoigne for me. A lot of younger kids won't even remember him like that, but I will.
"That's the least of people's concerns, though. The most important thing is he gets himself squared up and on the road to recovery because, sadly, he looks a long way from that at the moment."