Football: Merson squares up for Robson showdown

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PAUL MERSON is expected to hold talks with the Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson today, after admitting he almost quit the club on three occasions last season.

Merson is apparently desperate to leave the Riverside stadium, with Aston Villa the firm favourites to land the England man. The former Arsenal player cites a mixture of unhappiness at Middlesbrough's lack of ambition, and fears he may return to drinking and gambling, as his chief reasons for wanting to quit the north-east.

Merson, a key component in helping Middlesbrough regain their Premiership status last season, said, "I'm not happy with a lot of things behind the scenes at the club at the moment, and it's going to be sorted out on Monday.

"It would be right to call them showdown talks, and it looks as if I will probably be on my way. There is also loads of personal stuff which I need to sort out and talk about with Bryan Robson.

"A lot of the players like to have a drink and a bet. The situation is too much for me - the danger signs are there.

"I know if I keep on being exposed to drinking and gambling I am in danger of going back to my old ways.

"I made Bryan aware of my feelings in a conversation from Sweden on Friday. But this isn't an overnight decision on my part, which has come out while I'm away with England.

"I had three meetings with the club last year about getting away and no-one ever knew about it. Things were sorted out behind the scenes and everything was kept hush-hush.

"That's what I wanted to do again this time, but now the whole world knows."

Villa's manager John Gregory is keen to land Merson, as the player he has been looking for to link up between midfield and attack.

Robson will be looking for more than the pounds 5m to recoup his investment, but Villa may well feel that is an unrealistic fee for a player past his 30th birthday.

Merson explained: "I feel as if I have got to get away. Something has got to be done. Paul Gascoigne's name has been blown up as the reason why I am going because he is going to sell papers. But I'm not just blaming Gazza. That's just one thing that's been picked up on."

Merson added that Middlesbrough's apparent lack of ambition was affecting his decision. "There are other things relating to the club. I went there to be part of a team that wanted to get back in the Premiership, but was also told I'd be part of a team that would win trophies.

"The fact they have not bought players and strengthened in certain areas of the team is a big part of my decision. Middlesbrough are not going to win anything this year."