Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

'Gazza was brilliant, but he wasn't as good as George Best', says Willie McFaul

True talent: Paul Gascoigne was a footballing genius

Former Newcastle United manager Willie McFaul has spoken of his sadness at the plight of Paul Gascoigne.

Gascoigne, a former Magpies and England superstar, has struggled with alcoholism and bouts of depression since his playing days ended.

He has been admitted to hospital numerous times and friends of the former star are constantly worried about his health.

It was McFaul who gave an 18-year-old Gazza his first full game for the Geordies in 1985.

Back then the world was at Gascoigne's dazzling feet, but his alcohol addiction led him to rehab earlier this year with friends and family fearing for his life.

"It's sad what has happened to Paul over the years," says McFaul.

"He suffers from an addiction that many have suffered from and he has had some really tough times. I just hope everything works out for Paul," he added sincerely.

McFaul was a player, coach and assistant manager for Newcastle before taking the reigns from Jack Charlton in the year he unleashed Gazza.

He'd worked with Toon Army heroes Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle but Gascoigne was different to any that had gone before.

"Not long after Jack left the club I was put in charge and I remember giving Paul his first start against Southampton," recalls the amiable McFaul, now scouting opposition teams for his pals Paul Kee and John Cunningham at Institute.

"Paul really was something else. It was an quite an experience being his manager.

"He was absolutely brilliant on the pitch and could do just about anything with a football.

"Sometimes you would be looking at him from the dug-out and telling him to pass and the next second he would smash the ball in the top corner.

"He was an incredible player. Maybe success came too early for him."

While enthusing about Gascoigne's abilities, the greatest ever according to McFaul comes from our wee country.

"Gazza was capable of doing great things that you never expected, but he wasn't as good as George Best," said McFaul, boss at St James' Park for three years.

"George was the best I've seen. I was with Bestie in the international squad and what a player he was. I played against Pele a few times and for me he is the only one that's up there with George."

McFaul splits his time now between living in Northern Ireland and spending long periods with family in England.

He has maintained his close links with Newcastle, who he helped to Fairs Cup glory in 1969.

Next May he will be in back in the north east for a 45-year reunion of that celebrated successful side.

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