Merson heals his rift with Gregory

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The Independent Online
PAUL MERSON healed his rift with John Gregory after talks at Aston Villa's training ground yesterday, but the new rapport does not guarantee the midfielder a return to the starting line-up for Monday's Premiership home match with Everton.

Merson had criticised the reaction of his manager to his weekend trip to the United States and said he had been cold shouldered by Gregory. The England player had needed the break as part of his rehabilitation programme for his alcohol and drug addiction.

"It's all sorted," Merson said. "It was a misunderstanding. The boss told me he hadn't said anything to the media about my going to America and I apologised. If I have a problem now I can go and see him.

"I am a normal person. I've just been given God's gift to play football but if I've got a problem, like the ones I've had and have got, then I'm the same as a dustman or a postman.

"It makes no difference that you are earning millions of pounds. I've got a big problem which I'm fighting every day."

Gregory said everything was now "sweetness and light" between the duo. The door was "always open" if Merson needed to speak to him and the former Middlesbrough player could have time off if it helped him overcome his addictions.

However, Gregory hinted that Merson would not be ready to start against Everton after several weeks out with a back problem. "We had a chat. I think there was some slight confusion on Paul's part. I have not commented at all on any situation regarding Paul this week.

"As far as I am concerned everything was hunky-dory in any case between us. I like people who say what they think. But maybe the mistake he made was discussing things with the media when he should have talked to me about them first.

"I told him my thoughts. I didn't know about him going to New York. I had to find out from somebody else. I would rather have found out from him, because the trip would not have been a problem."

"But we will have to see whether or not Monday comes too soon because he has been out for seven weeks and only started training with the first team last week."

The out-of-favour Liverpool striker Sean Dundee has turned down a move to the French club, Strasbourg.

George Best, despite his own, well-recorded, wayward ways, has criticised modern-day players, branding them overpaid, lazy millionaires. He also claimed that many are tempted to drink heavily, or dabble with drugs because football does not give them a big enough "buzz".

"Footballers today are millionaires by the time they're 22 or 23. More and more of them are going out and looking for something to give them a buzz outside football, be it gambling, drugs or booze," Best said. "I was on peanuts when I first got into the first team. I got my buzz from playing.

"Players now have a groin injury for months and months and I often think that they don't really give a toss whether they're playing or not because they're getting paid anyway."

Middlesbrough's assistant manager Viv Anderson has been fined pounds 750 and warned as to his future conduct by the Football Association. Anderson was given the punishment for remarks he made to the referee Paul Alcock after Middlesbrough's match at Southampton in November.

The Gillingham manager Tony Pulis has been given a 28-day touchline ban following an incident with the referee Alan Wiley at Bournemouth in October. The ban starts on 1 February.

It was confirmed yesterday that the former Parma coach Carlo Ancelotti will take charge at Juventus next season, replacing Marcello Lippi. The 39-year-old Ancelotti, one of Serie A's most promising coaches, has signed a two-year contract. Lippi, who led Juve for five years to a series of domestic and European titles, is leaving at the end of the season to join Inter.