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Op-Ed \ Willie Calderon

Signing Gascgoine would be a major step backward for Major League Soccer.

MIDDLESBROUGH, England (Friday, February 18, 2000) -- The subject of Paul Gascgoine is circulating in the rumor mill again. As reported a few weeks ago, the 32-year-old midfielder has been linked with a transfer to the United States.

The news out of Middlesbrough is that the move will be sooner than earlier believed. The reason for the hasty departure stems from an injury suffered during after an incident in Monday night's Premiere League match between Middlesbrough and Aston Villa. He is under investigation by the English Football Association on a misconduct charge for what was a dreadful challenge.

During the match, Aston Villa midfielder George Boateng began a powerful run down the center of midfield. Gascgoine lunged at him with his elbow raised in a blatant attempt to slow the midfielder. He managed to connect with his forearm, which shattered on Boateng's face. Boateng continued his run and wasn't at all phased as Aston Villa scored moments later en route to a 4-0 win. It was Gascgoine's first appearance in nine weeks for his club and it lasted all of 40 minutes.

Gascgoine’s injury is believed to need more than four weeks to heal, but Middlesbrough officials are said to be convinced that he won't be able to play regularly at the top level anymore. Club officials are apparently fed up with his on- and off-field antics. They say they believe he will be heading off to the U.S. this summer.

Gascgoine is largely recognized as the greatest player of his generation in England. A member of the 1990 England World Cup squad, he is best remembered for his reaction after receiving a yellow card against West Germany in the semifinals. The booking meant that he would not be able to play in the final had England won and upon realizing this, he burst into tears.

However, his off-the-field problems have overshadowed his career. Alcoholism, spousal abuse, weight problems, and his love of night life, have been among the issues surrounding a career of underachievement. Injury and controversy have followed him wherever he has played. He was able to show moments of brilliance such as his exquisite goal against Scotland in 1996 European Championships. But this only served to underline what he might have been had he taken his career seriously. Watching him play now is like watching a legendary actor forgetting his lines.

If Major League Soccer were to sign him, it would be a travesty. He's a dreadful player who's glory days are well behind him. He is the type of athlete that never met his potential and has that unenviable talent for self-destructing. Simply put, MLS could do without him and bringing him over to America would be a step backwards for the league.

Willy Calderon, an American living in Brighton, England, can be e-mailed at willy@netcity.co.uk.

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