Gascoigne prepares for Cup challenge in China

BEIJING: A first round Chinese FA Cup tie might not be how Paul Gascoigne envisaged his twilight years, but for the troubled star it'll be another step on the road to recovery. 

The 35-year-old former England star, who lit up many an English FA cup match, is preparing to take the field Saturday for his biggest challenge since turning out for First Division Burnley last season. 

As player-coach of Chinese B-league strugglers Gansu Tianma, Gazza has hit rock bottom but the signs are encouraging, according to team manager Gong Lei. 

“Up till now we are very satisfied with Gascoigne. He plays a very important role in the team,” Gong told AFP from the team hotel in southern Guangzhou city where they are preparing for Saturday's showdown against A-league team Chongqing Lifan. 

When Gazza, a former Newcastle, Lazio, Spurs and Rangers star, arrived in China looking for a team to take him after exhausting all other options, he was dismissed as an out of shape has been with a drinking problem. 

But Lanzhou, a largely Muslim industrial city in Gansu province on the fringes of the northwest desert, took a gamble. 

Club general manager Zhong Bohong said the former England international had made progress. 

“He trains well. His skill and his experience are not a problem,” said Zhong.  

“His physical condition is improving. He is now able to join general training with the team.” 

Last month Gascoigne said he had signed a nine-month contract. Zhong insists it is a one-year contract, reported to be for 653,000 US dollars. 

While Gascoigne is expected to take the field Saturday neither Zhong nor Gong would confirm he will play. 

“I can't tell you if he will play or not in Saturday's match because for us it is a secret,” said Gong. 

“You will have to wait and see.” 

Earlier this month Gascoigne told the BBC he believed he would be successful at the club because he had never shirked a challenge. – AFP 

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