Gascoigne signed for Rangers in the summer of 1995 for a then club record of £4.3 million after three inconsistent and injury-plagued seasons at Lazio. The Englishman had endeared himself to the Lazio fans with a goal in the derby but was remembered more for his fitness issues and off-field shenanigans.
Smith earmarked Gascoigne to bring extra flair to a squad which was already stocked with supreme talent, including Andy Goram, Richard Gough, Ally McCoist and Brian Laudrup.
The ex-Rangers boss relayed the encounter to Graham Hunter in The Big Interview podcast, when a bizarre day in Rome led to Smith convincing Gascoigne his future lay in Scotland and not England. Although, it didn’t take much convincing.
He said: “I read a newspaper that Gascoigne is leaving Lazio. I had met him on holiday the year before in Florida. He was in the same hotel. He didn’t know who I was, but that’s Paul.
“I thought he would bring a much needed spark. When I sat down with the chairman (David Murray) I said, ‘Look, we’ve got an opportunity here’. Then, Rangers and Celtic could still compete (with English clubs for players). The chairman got in touch with the president at Lazio.
“It was the end of the season so I got on a flight to Rome, the people at Lazio gave me his address. He stayed in the hills outside Rome. I just got a taxi and went up and doorstepped him.
“It wasn’t even a matter of watching Paul Gascoigne play because he was injured, he’d been out with a broken leg for most of that season. So I chapped his door and heard this quad bike. The door opens and he looked at me and said, ‘what are you doing here?’
“I said ‘I’m here to get you to sign for Rangers’ and he said ‘okay’.
“He had been going away on holiday and I was very fortunate I got him the day before he was going away. We had an interesting day at his place. (He was) true to his word. His agents at the time wanted him to go to an English club but he said ‘no, I’m going to Rangers.”
Gascoigne spent three season at Rangers, wowing crowds with his dazzling skills and bamboozling Rangers management and team-mates with his antics. But the quality he produced in helping the club to two league titles, a Scottish Cup and League Cup was worth the occasional headache for Smith.
“It was always a challenge. Mainly the boyish aspect of it. You take him knowing what you are taking. No use complaining about it. You sit down and say to the rest of the guys ‘look lads, we’ve brought him in, he’ll probably get away with a bit more than the majority of the rest of you but he’ll win us matches’.
“He was never bad, it was always stupid things. My colleague Archie Knox handled him fantastically and kept him out my road for the majority.
“No one can take away the fact he was one of the most talented footballers of that generation of players.”
• Listen to the full interview here.