Paul Merson: How last-minute magic saved my Orlando trip
"We came in 2-0 down at half-time at Villa Park... John Gregory said to me: 'You're not going to Orlando tomorrow if this game doesn't get turned around'"
Last Updated: 04/05/20 1:50pm
Paul Merson revealed how his last-minute goal for Aston Villa against Coventry in 2001 saved his trip to Orlando for his brother's stag do.
On the penultimate Premier League weekend of the 2000/01 season, Coventry needed a win at Merson's Aston Villa to keep their hopes of survival alive.
With Coventry leading 2-0 at the break, Merson's planned trip to Orlando the following week looked in tatters, but some last-minute magic from the Magic Man himself meant he was able to spend the following week in the US.
Here, speaking on Monday's The Football Show, Merson also runs through a regret from his managerial days at Walsall, why Alan Smith was so underrated, and his top five footballers of all time...
Last-minute magic saves Orlando trip
"It was the year where the FA Cup final was played before the final day of the season, and my brother had a stag the weekend of the FA Cup final, I'd organised it in Orlando.
"We were playing Coventry on the penultimate game week of the season. I went to Villa manager John Gregory, asked him if I could go to Orlando after the game and he said: 'Not a problem, you can go, we haven't got a game!'
"We came in 2-0 down at half-time at Villa Park. Our season was over anyway, but Gregory said to me: 'You're not going to Orlando tomorrow if this game doesn't get turned around.'
"And then, low and behold, I scored the winner with the last kick of the game, and Coventry went down. The next day, I went to Orlando!
"You can imagine what I said to Gregory when I got back in. I was putting my suntan cream on when he was having his post-match chat!
"People say that goal sent Coventry down, I don't believe that and I hope it didn't. It's a long season, and don't just blame it on one goal."
If you had your time again…
Asked by Graeme Souness what he would do differently in his career if he had his time again, Merson felt he gave a poor example to his players as to how to train when he was manager at Walsall, but has few other regrets from his playing days...
"You know what? Not a lot. On the football pitch? Nothing. I put myself down as a team player. I was selfish off the pitch, but when it came to Saturday I didn't play for myself, I played for the team and wanted to win.
"Was I a good trainer? At the end of my career I wasn't. I realised I needed to get ready for the games at the weekend as I was getting older.
"Harry Redknapp was phenomenal with me. He understood, and would say: 'Just train twice a week, look after yourself.' But in the early days, I trained as hard as anybody, you had to with George Graham, because if you didn't train hard you didn't get in the team.
"But at the end of my career I was a poor trainer, and I think because I was went from player to manager at Walsall, being a bad trainer the year before, the players thought they could all train like that. That was a problem, but it was my fault, not their fault. It was hard to get it across to them that I could to that because I was coming towards the end of my career. That's a regret of mine."
I wanted to be like Smudge
Merson also notes how much he admired fellow Arsenal forward and Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith during his playing career; the pair won two First Division titles, the FA Cup and Cup Winners' Cup while at Highbury...
"I would say Smudge was the most underrated player I played with by a million miles. He was the nearest thing to Mark Hughes at holding the ball up. He won the golden boot twice as a player.
"He was a great player, and great lad. When I was going through my problems at Arsenal, he was the one person I wanted to be like. A proper family man, he lived his life properly, and someone I just wanted to be like.
"A great player, and a massive help in my career there's no doubt about that."
My top five players
Merson was also asked to pick his top five footballers of all time on Monday's The Football Show, going for Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marco Van Basten and Paolo Maldini. Here, he justifies his reasons for Maradona, Van Basten and Maldini...
"When I was growing up Maradona went to Napoli, which was in the hardest league in the world at the time. You got kicked from pillar to post, it was defensive-minded, where it was hard to score goals, and he took them to win the league.
"He also won the World Cup virtually on his own in 1986. I know Argentina had good players around him, but for me if it wasn't for him they wouldn't have won the World Cup. For me, he's the best player I've ever seen, and I still say that today. I know the game has moved on, but he got kicked from pillar to post, he had to do a lot of it on his own, and he's my favourite player.
"Regarding Van Basten, I think people have short memories in football, they are forgotten very quickly. I played with Tony Adams for many years and he was a top, top defender. If you see what Van Basten did to Tony Adams at the Euros you have to really sit up and think: 'This player is unbelievable.' He was nicknamed The Prince. He was a phenomenal player, and could do everything. He was quick, strong, with both feet. He was special.
"And Maldini was phenomenal. I was fortunate enough to play against him; I thought my strength was being able to see things, I thought I had quite a quick brain. But against him, I never got a kick. Everything I did he was always there, always thinking another pass or interception before me.
"It was an honour to play against him. We're often thinking the best players in the world are forwards, but if you don't have world class defenders, it's very, very rare you win anything."