Merson weeps over Gascoigne's drinking problem

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THE ENGLAND international footballer and recovering alcoholic, Paul Merson, broke down and cried yesterday as he spoke about the drinking problem of Paul Gascoigne.

Mr Gascoigne, whose career appears to be in doubt after his latest drinking binge, has booked into a drying out clinic, the pounds 3,000-a-week Marchwood Priory in Hampshire.

Mr Merson, who went to the same place for his own treatment, said: "Gazza will have been crying all weekend. They support you in the clinic, but you feel you have let everyone down and your self-esteem is really low. If it comes down to it and he walks out, then he is going to play again - but it's a question of how long for."

Mr Merson had sought help for addiction to drugs and gambling as well as drink. Since then he has revived his career and regained his England place. He said a combination of constant pressure on Mr Gascoigne to live up to his reputation on the pitch, the voracious tabloid interest in his private life and the break up of his marriage had all helped to shove him down the slope.

But it was his dropping from the England squad for the World Cup by national coach, Glenn Hoddle, which had given the final push, making him realise he was dispensable.

Mr Merson now plays for Aston Villa. One of the reasons he left his previous club, Middlesborough was because, it was claimed, of his fear he will regress to his old life due to Mr Gascoigne's presence there as a team mate. He said yesterday: "It takes a lot to admit that you have had enough and can't stop. But the hard work starts now. He's in a great place. If he can't get better there, then he won't get better."

"I was lucky. I had a wife and kids to come home to. But he hasn't got much." He discounted suggestions that Mr Gascoigne could be back playing next weekend, saying: "It doesn't happen. He will be out for at least six weeks. But six weeks out of a life is nothing. If he gets his head sorted there's no one in the England squad who can touch him."

Mr Merson who had agreed to talk about Mr Gascoigne's problems during a news conference felt after a while he could not continue, and was helped away by an official of the Football Association.

Middlesborough, which paid pounds 3.5m to Rangers for Mr Gascoigne, said: "Following discussions between Paul Gascoigne and the football club on Friday, it was mutually decided that it was in Paul's best interest to admit him to hospital. Paul is there to receive medical advice and will remain there for as long as the medical staff feel is right."

The Professional Footballers' Association, which had helped pay for Mr Merson's treatment, has helped six footballers in the same situation.

Addiction counsellor Steve Jacobs, who helped alcoholic Arsenal and former England captain Tony Adams, said: "The pattern of Gascoigne's life is ... terrifying. He will end up in the gutter, in prison or he will die."

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