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GREGORY: MERSON IS THE MODEL PRO

Paul Merson will be captain for Aston Villa against FC Pribram on Sunday – and is now seen as a standard bearer at the club.
Merson has been fully focused and committed and pre-season training, delighting manager John Gregory with his application. Now the former Arsenal man is being identified by Gregory as the man to whom others should look as an example of the model professional.

"Merse is a model pro," said Gregory. It is a description many would have scoffed at a few years ago when Merson was struggling with gambling and alcohol addictions, but he enters the Intertoto clash with huge enthusiasm.

Gregory said: "In fairness to Paul he has probably not had to work as hard in the summer as he is doing now. But he is a model pro and he is lapping it up.

"He has lifted us on his return. I think he knows that in the latter stages of his career he has got to look after himself. Players now can't kid us because of the machines we have. They check your heart-rate, your pulse rate and you are under constant scrutiny.

"It is nice for me to say 'Look at Merse', that's how it should be done. That's the biggest compliment I can pay him. I have no doubt my players will be ready for the game. They've shown that in training.

"If we weren't playing in this competition we might be having friendlies against the likes of Rochdale, Stevenage or Wycombe. At least it has got a serious ring to it."

Pribham finished eighth in their league last season and are expecting a capacity crowd at their stadium, south of Prague, for Villa’s visit.
 

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Running a lax ship
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From Bowler: Could it be that John Gregory has a problem that even his best friends won't tell him about. Surely not. A man of such impeccable coiffure and grooming. But it maybe the only explanation, a hygiene problem that keeps the players away.

Let's look at those facts. Gareth Southgate wants a move. So does Ugo. Little Beni hasn't come back from Italy yet. Julian Joachim won't even talk to him. Mark Draper's gone to Southampton, so at least it's not all bad news.

In the face of that, surely it's obvious. Gregory is suffering from that most deadly of diseases, D.O. Yes, Gregory's got Doug Odour. No amount of scrubbing and hosing down can free a Villa manager of that stale smell of no ambition, the pungent aroma of great wads of money unavailable for transfers, the earthy taste of newly built stands that can be named after the saintly one.

The cure for this awful affliction? Is there one? Yes, just the one cure. It's horrible, brutal even, involving huge amounts of blood letting, often around November. Sadly for Villa fans, it's merely a cosmetic exercise, simply lopping off the visible symptom - a hapless manager - while leaving the deadly virus - deadly Doug - to do its insidious and incompetent work. Twas ever thus.
 

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Running a lax ship
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Also from Bowler: Let us begin with tales of raven-skulled John Gregory and his enduring strangeness. Villa had an early start to their season thanks to their grim display in the FA Cup Final, which shoved them over the cliff of automatic UEFA qualification and onto the rocky outcrop known as the Inter-Toto Cup.

To ensure that his gallant lads, of whom he thinks so highly, maintained the high professional standards which he expects, he equipped them with electronic tags so that he could monitor their every movement. The tag provided details of heart rates and so on at the times when they were supposed to be indulging in physical exercise. Thank God Dwight's not still there, or the tag would have gone off the scale three times a night.

Paul Merson said he didn't mind, and that the only way he could have escaped the regime was to take the tag off and get somebody else to run for him. Which may explain the remarkable heart-rate that coincided with the 2.30 at Newmarket, the 4.15 at Redcar and the 5.10 from Haydock Park.
 
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