The last day of May 1998 brought a swelteringly hot afternoon in La Manga, heavy with foreboding and rumour.

A press briefing of sorts had been arranged for late that evening at the coastal resort in Spain when the names of the players who had been left out of Glenn Hoddle’s final England squad for the 1998 World Cup in France were to be released ahead of a press conference the following day.

The media were all staying in the Las Lomas section of the resort and even though Hoddle and the squad were elsewhere, at the main hotel close by, everyone knew the players were about to be told their fates.

So we waited. A group of us, from various newspapers, sat around the pool area attached to Las Lomas, looking hopefully at our mobile phones, which had only just ceased becoming novelty accessories.

Some time around 3pm, Brian Woolnough’s phone rang. The Sun’s chief football writer answered it, listened to whoever was talking at the other end of the line and got up and left. A few minutes later, Steve Howard’s phone rang. The Sun’s chief sports writer answered it, listened, and got up and left.

Glenn Hoddle made the dramatic decision to leave Paul Gascoigne out of his squad in 1998

Glenn Hoddle made the dramatic decision to leave Paul Gascoigne out of his squad in 1998

Gascoigne's lifestyle was no longer compatible with the demands of the modern game

Gascoigne’s lifestyle was no longer compatible with the demands of the modern game

Hoddle addressed the journalists in La Manga after choosing not to select Gascoigne - and Oliver Holt was in the camp

Hoddle addressed the journalists in La Manga after choosing not to select Gascoigne – and Oliver Holt was in the camp

Everyone else headed back to their apartments and started making calls. After a few fruitless enquiries, I phoned a friend of mine who was close to a couple of players in the squad. I could tell something momentous had happened because of the tone of his voice. He said Dion Dublin, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Ian Walker had all failed to make the cut but it was obvious there was a kicker.

‘You’re not going to believe the last one,’ he said. ‘He’s left out Gazza.’

A grim kind of history repeats itself every two years when England managers trim their squads to meet the last Uefa or Fifa deadline to finalise their travelling party before the start of a major tournament.

That history is littered with famous casualties. Len Shackleton was left out of the 1950 World Cup squad, a young Duncan Edwards didn’t quite make it in 1954, Nat Lofthouse was jettisoned in 1958 and Trevor Francis, English football’s first £1m player, was deemed past his best ahead of the 1986 World Cup.

But no matter the identity of the seven unlucky players who Gareth Southgate leaves out of his final 26-man squad for the European Championship, none is likely to have quite the same seismic impact as the omission of Gascoigne 26 years ago.

It is hard to think of what might constitute an equivalent shock. Maybe if Southgate came to the conclusion, say, that Harry Kane’s back injury was worse than he first thought and made him one of the unlucky seven, that might come close.

As it is, it may be that he has made the most significant selection calls already by leaving out Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling from his original squad. His biggest call now is whether Jack Grealish makes it on to the plane to Germany. Grealish has been integral to the Southgate squads who have enjoyed so much success, after all.

He is a wonderful player to watch when he is at his best, charismatic, magnetic, technically gifted, a man to give defenders twisted blood. In 2022-23, he was one of Pep Guardiola’s key players when Manchester City won the Treble. It seemed he would be an England mainstay for a long time to come.

But his star waned in the domestic season just ended and, with vague echoes of some of the issues that dogged Gascoigne, there has been a perception that his lifestyle has contributed to the way he has fallen out of favour with Guardiola.

The biggest call for Gareth Southgate is whether Jack Grealish makes it onto the plane amid a difficult season at Man City

The biggest call for Gareth Southgate is whether Jack Grealish makes it onto the plane amid a difficult season at Man City

Southgate will be able to deliver his message to the omitted players in the correct manner

Southgate will be able to deliver his message to the omitted players in the correct manner

Spurs' James Maddison is the first casualty of the England manager's pre-tournament cull

Spurs’ James Maddison is the first casualty of the England manager’s pre-tournament cull

If he scrapes into the final 26, it will be at the expense of James Maddison, another gifted creative influence, who has struggled to recapture the scintillating early-season form he showed for Spurs. Maddison reportedly left the England camp last night. Southgate, of course, was one of the players who survived the carnage of Hoddle’s final cut in La Manga and he already has experience of trying to manage these difficult moments in the run-up to two World Cups and one European Championship.

After England’s victory over Bosnia in the friendly international at St James’ Park on Monday night, he said he would consult with his staff over the best way to manage the task of communicating the bad news to the players to be left out.

It is thought that the unfortunate seven will be told of their fate some time on Friday afternoon at England’s base at the Spurs’ training complex at Enfield and that those seven will not play any part in the final warm-up game against Iceland at Wembley that evening.

The simple truth is there is no easy way to communicate the kind of news that a player is to miss out on a tournament that would have been one of the highlights of his career but because of his experience, his sense of empathy, and his character, Southgate will make it as palatable as possible.

Hoddle didn’t have that experience back in 1998, nor was he minded to indulge players or pander to their sensibilities, as he was to show during the tournament with his treatment of David Beckham, in particular.

The players, too, sat round a pool at La Manga, waiting to be called to the manager’s room to be told if they were in or out. Gascoigne, who had had a ‘refuelling’ problem for some time, had been drinking during a round of golf that morning.

He was so much the worse for wear that some of the players chucked him into the pool to try to sober him up but by then, Hoddle had already seen enough, in warm-up matches against Morocco and Belgium, both in Casablanca, to decide that Gascoigne could not be included in the squad for France.

After hearing the news, Gascoigne went berserk at Hoddle (pictured right), screaming abuse at him and smashing a lamp

After hearing the news, Gascoigne went berserk at Hoddle (pictured right), screaming abuse at him and smashing a lamp

Gascoigne had struggled against Belgium and was substituted five minutes after half-time

Gascoigne had struggled against Belgium and was substituted five minutes after half-time

During Euro 96, Gascoigne was a star but by 1998 he was a long way from his titanic peak

During Euro 96, Gascoigne was a star but by 1998 he was a long way from his titanic peak

The way of administering the news, though, is often used an example of how not to do it and not just because Hoddle had the saxophone music of Kenny G playing in the background as each player walked in.

Graeme Le Saux, who made the final squad in 1998, recalled seeing Gascoigne set off for Hoddle’s room with the air of a man who was walking the walk of a condemned man to the gallows.

When Gazza walked into Hoddle’s room, he already had an inkling of what was about to happen and when the manager confirmed the news, Gazza went berserk, screaming abuse at the manager, smashing a lamp and kicking some furniture so hard that he gashed his leg.

It was a shock to the rest of us and to England fans only because of the significance of Gascoigne to the English game and because of an awareness that this was a personal tragedy for the player. Football was his family. It was everything to him.

His performance at the World Cup in 1990 had helped to create the football boom of the 1990s in this country and there is a strong argument that he remains the greatest player England has produced since the 1966 World Cup.

He had excelled, too, at the 1996 European Championship in England, which had felt like a joyous landmark in the history of our game, even if England did go out to Germany on penalties in the semi-finals.

But by the summer of 1998, Gazza’s reputation obscured the reality of his physical condition. His lifestyle was no longer compatible with the demands of the modern game.

Palace's Adam Wharton has staked his claim for involvement after making excellent progress

Palace’s Adam Wharton has staked his claim for involvement after making excellent progress

Southgate has already made big calls by leaving Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson out

Southgate has already made big calls by leaving Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson out

He had struggled noticeably in the game against Belgium, where he had been substituted five minutes after half-time, and even though Hoddle was lambasted at first for his decision because of sympathy for Gascoigne, it was a brave and correct choice.

After the official press conference at La Manga the next day, when he fielded question after question about Gascoigne, Hoddle met with a small group of us outside the team hotel. He asked us to turn our tapes off for a moment.

Hoddle was not given to confiding in us as a group so the way he addressed us that day made an impression. ‘Come on fellas,’ he said, asking for understanding, ‘You all saw him’. Most nodded sadly in silent agreement.

None of this means that Southgate does not have tough calls to make. He already showed his ruthlessness by leaving out Henderson and Rashford, who had been stalwarts of his squads. Both, in separate ways, had suffered dramatic losses of form and changes in circumstance.

Leaving aside the questions over Grealish, Southgate also faces tough decisions over crucial players like Luke Shaw, who has missed so much of Manchester United’s season through injury but remains one of England’s most accomplished defenders when fit.

Those considered the most likely to join Maddison in the unlucky seven summoned by Southgate on Friday are James Trafford, Jarell Quansah, Jarrad Branthwaite, Curtis Jones, Lewis Dunk and Ollie Watkins but there is always room for surprises.

It would fit more with the positive mood surrounding the squad and its prospects — England are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the tournament — to concentrate on those likely to make it.

Until recently, it seemed as if there was not to be a ‘bolter’ in the squad, a player who makes a late run for inclusion as Gascoigne did when Sir Bobby Robson included him in the 1990 World Cup squad.

Ivan Toney is the best deputy for Harry Kane but it remains to be seen if he will make the squad

Ivan Toney is the best deputy for Harry Kane but it remains to be seen if he will make the squad

That has changed. Adam Wharton was so impressive for Crystal Palace towards the end of the domestic season that he demanded inclusion in recent squads and has clearly impressed Southgate immeasurably with his performances in training and in his debut as a second-half substitute against Bosnia.

It looks as if he has done enough to get into the 26 and maybe even press for a place in the starting XI alongside Declan Rice at the base of midfield. He will be competing there with Kobbie Mainoo, Manchster United’s exciting young midfield talent.

I hope Ivan Toney makes the squad. He’s the best deputy for Kane. But that might spell bad news for Watkins, who had such a fine and prolific season for Unai Emery’s Aston Villa.

There are tough choices everywhere you look. Whatever Southgate decides, whoever he picks, he knows that those left out will be devastated.

Whatever his decisions, the safest bet of all is that some time on Friday the players will learn their fates and mobile phones will start ringing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Radio 2 star Ken Bruce will present his final show for the BBC TODAY after more than 30 years

Radio 2 star Ken Bruce will present his final show for the…

Twitter feared Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign would ‘misfire” – but CEO Musk still takes victory lap

Twitter reportedly had reservations over how Ron DeSantis‘ campaign launch would handle…

Britain is the Working From Home capital of Europe new study reveals, as MPs fear the practice will stunt productivity

Britain is the Working From Home capital of Europe new study reveals,…

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s superannuation changes described as ‘wealth tax’

Warning over Anthony Albanese’s ‘wealth tax’ that could hit thousands of Australians:…