Paul Gascoigne's Italian adventure could conceivably have taken a different course. After the third-place play-off between Italy and England at Italia 90, the World Cup at which he shimmied, cried and announced himself to a global audience, there was a visitor to the England dressing room. The man wanted to meet Gascoigne.
It was Gianni Agnelli. Mr Fiat, Mr Juventus. None of the England players knew who he was. "But we knew that he was someone, because he came in with these heavies," John Barnes, the winger, recalled. The call went out to Gascoigne, who was in the shower. Gascoigne emerged, mercifully with a towel around him, and proceeded to grab Agnelli in a headlock and slap him, Benny Hill-style, on the head. "Needless to say, Gazza didn't go to Juventus," Barnes said.
Lazio's supporters love that story. Gascoigne would go to their club, from Tottenham Hotspur in 1992, a year later than initially advertised because of the infamous knee injury that he suffered in the 1991 FA Cup final and, to them, he was worth the wait. He ticked the boxes for cult hero status: eternally fun-loving, irreverent to the point of craziness, no respecter of reputations. And, most importantly, he brought spirit and fantasy to their cool blue shirt.
On Thursday night, they are ready to welcome him back. Gascoigne has been invited to the Olympic Stadium as the guest of honour for Lazio's Europa League tie against Tottenham and the plan is for the Rome club's president, Claudio Lotito, to accompany him on a pre-match walk in front of the fans.
There have never been any guarantees that Gascoigne will be in a designated place at an appointed time and these days, as he battles ongoing problems with addiction, the odds can seem greater. Tottenham wanted him to attend the White Hart Lane fixture against Lazio on 20 September only for him not to be well enough. But Lazio expect him to make it and the sight promises to be one for sore eyes.
Gascoigne was in Rome for three seasons and he made only 43 appearances in Serie A, scoring six goals. He won nothing and was frustrated by a series of injuries. But he transcended the club with his charisma and genius, and the impression he created has been lasting. Gascoigne was Sergio Cragnotti's first high-profile signing and he came to be considered as the trailblazer for the president's hugely successful era. At every home game since Gascoigne's departure, there has been a flag on the Curva Nord bearing his image.
"Paul Gascoigne is a mythical figure for Lazio fans and very popular in general in Italy," said Lazio's general manager, Maurizio Manzini, who held the same position at the club during Gascoigne's time there. "I remember the Atalanta ultras, who had a reputation for being really tough, opened an enormous banner with a picture of a huge bottle of beer, saying 'This is for you, Gazza'."
Gascoigne endeared himself from the start, with his first goal for the club being the last-gasp equaliser in the Rome derby. The Lazio support had been forced to wait for him but his sense of timing and occasion was exquisite. The passions in the celebratory scenes have retained their wrecking ball power. If the boy from Gateshead did nothing else in Lazio colours, he would always have this.
In the cold, hard analysis, Gascoigne did underachieve but in a city of romantics, his capacity to tantalise arguably enhanced his legend. English football's outstanding talent of the late 80s to the mid-90s fired his Roman love affair when he played with those driving runs, head up and chest out, looking for the killer pass and, of course, the deftness and the feints.
Still, it was and is impossible to cherish Gazza without also embracing the off-field comedy. David Ginola remembers his first day in training at Everton in 2002, when Gascoigne played the session alongside him in a flowing wig, which he flicked constantly and dramatically. Gascoigne had to have put some forethought into that jape and the feeling throughout his career was that he woke up each morning and threw himself into the execution of some prank or other.
At Lazio, there was a long tunnel outside the training ground, through which the team bus would have to pass and, on one occasion, before the squad drove in, there was panic and consternation. Gascoigne had not reported for training and there he was, lying on the roadside, a motorbike beneath him, covered in blood. As his team-mates rushed to his aid, Gascoigne got to his feet, grinned and licked the tomato sauce that he had poured everywhere.
The tunnel was a good prop. Gascoigne would usually sit at the back of the bus and the management would be at the front. One time, when the bus emerged from the darkness, Dino Zoff, the manager, found himself confronted by the sight of a fully naked Gascoigne.
So many people have a story to tell. Gascoigne's bodyguards in Rome once burst into his apartment, upon hearing a scream, to find a pair of shoes in front of an open balcony door. They then heard Gascoigne, spying from the bathroom, in fits of laughter. One of them put his gun to Gascoigne's head. "If you ever do that again, I'll kill you," he said.
Looking after Gascoigne felt like a full-time job. One Lazio team-mate was assigned to drive him in to training but, one morning, Gascoigne tricked him, locked him in the apartment and drove himself in the car.
In certain cases, the line between the truth and the apocryphal has blurred. Even Gascoigne does not always seem to know. A personal favourite, which surely must be true, is the time when Gascoigne met the president of the Denmark Football Association and pretended that he could speak Danish. When asked to demonstrate, he imitated the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show.
Some people have seen it all with Gascoigne but, for various reasons, they prefer to keep schtum. "I'm not sure I can repeat any of the stories," Gary Mabbutt said, with a smile. Gascoigne's former Tottenham colleague, though, is on safer ground when he considers his good friend's relationship with Lazio.
"The whole Lazio experience was fantastic for Paul, he thoroughly enjoyed his time there and he always speaks very fondly of the club and the fans," Mabbutt said. "I think it speaks volumes that at the White Hart Lane game, the travelling Lazio supporters started singing his name, and the Tottenham fans joined in. The whole stadium was signing his name. That shows the affection that both clubs have for him.
"Knowing Paul as I do, I know that he would do everything he can to be there for the game in Rome. He has a really good heart, he is so generous and he never wants to let anyone down. It would be tremendous for Paul to be there."
The memories will flood back; the emotion will crackle. Bring hankies.