Paul Charles Merson (born 20 March 1968) is an English professional footballer and manager, turned football television pundit. As a player he played a large majority of his career as a right winger.
He notably played in the Premier League for Arsenal, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, as well as appearing in the Football League for Brentford and Portsmouth. He also played for Walsall where he spent two years as player-manager before finishing his career in Non-League football with Tamworth. He briefly came out of retirement in 2012 for Welshpool Town where he played in a one-off game. Merson earned 21 caps for England, scoring 3 times.
Born in Harlesden, North West London, Merson started his career at Arsenal, joining the club as an apprentice in 1984. After a loan spell at Brentford, then under manager Frank McLintock, he made his debut for the Gunners on 22 November 1986 against Manchester City, and gradually established himself in George Graham’s successful Arsenal side of the late 1980s. By the 1988–89 season he was a regular on the right wing, at the end of which Arsenal secured the First Division title with a last gasp Michael Thomas goal in the final game of the season against Liverpool. Merson scored ten times that season, made his debut for the England U21 side, and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.
With Arsenal, Merson bagged another league championship in 1991, both the FA Cup and League Cup in 1993 (scoring equaliser in League Cup Final v Sheffield Wednesday) and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. He also made his debut for the full England side, in a friendly against Germany on 11 September 1991.
Merson’s career was put on the line in November 1994 when he admitted to being an alcoholic and cocaine and/or gambling addict. The Football Association arranged for Merson to undergo a three-month rehabilitation programme and he returned to the side in February 1995, just before the dismissal of George Graham as manager. Under caretaker manager Stewart Houston, Merson helped Arsenal reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final for the second season in a row.
In 1995–96, Merson remained a regular first team player under Arsenal’s new manager Bruce Rioch and continued to play regularly during the 1996–97 season following the appointment of Arsène Wenger. In a somewhat surprising move, at the end of the 1996–97 Premiership campaign, in which Arsenal finished third, Merson was sold to relegated Middlesbrough in a £4.5million deal – making him the most expensive player ever signed by a non-Premiership club. Arsene Wenger had offered Merson a new two-year contract, but Merson elected to join Boro for a longer contract. Merson played 423 times for Arsenal and scored 99 goals in all competitions.In the summer of 1997, Merson left the Gunners to sign for Relegated Middlesbrough for a reported fee believed to be £4.5million. Merson later said “People thought i was mad to leave Arsenal for Boro, but they were mad to think it. I joined a club that wanted me, a club going places, it wasn’t for the money, i actually took a pay cut to join them, its not everyday you have an opportunity to work with somebody like Bryan Robson, it was a no brainer” Merson made his league debut for Boro in the opening day victory over Charlton Athletic in a 2-1 victory. Merson played a key role in helping Boro return to the Premier League and was nicknamed by fans as “The Magic man” Merson’s form with Boro also won him a place in England’s World Cup Finals Squad in France. During the start of the 1998/99 season Merson stated he was home sick and wanted a return South, media coverage stated Merson had said his transfer request was down to a players drinking and gambling culture within the club. A statement later denied by Merson’s agent. Middlesbrough later agreed to Merson’s request and he was sold to Aston Villa for £6.75million. Merson played a key creative role in the Villa side, and helped them to the FA Cup Final in 2000, where they lost 1-0 to Chelsea.
Merson signed for Division One club Portsmouth on a two-year contract, and was instrumental in the club’s promotion to the Premiership in 2002–03. Merson, however, felt that he was too old for a return to the Premiership, and wanted to move closer to his home in Sutton Coldfield. Following a possible move to West Brom which was later vetoed by then Manager Gary Megson, he was eventually snapped up by Division One side Walsall in summer 2003.
In February 2004, Merson admitted himself to the Sierra Tucson Clinic in Arizona to seek help for his gambling addiction under the advice and financial backing of the PFA, and missed several key games whilst Walsall slipped in the league from mid table mediocrity into the relegation zone. However, a couple of months after his return, Merson was quickly thrown into the manager’s spot at Walsall following Colin Lee’s sacking for allegedly having talks with Plymouth Argyle over a vacant manager’s position there. Merson led a gallant bid to retain Division One status, but was hindered by a harsh last minute penalty against Crystal Palace, and eventually relegated after a 3–2 victory against Rotherham United whilst having to rely on Stoke City beating Gillingham F.C. on the final day. The following month, despite relegation, Merson was rewarded with the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
The 2004–05 season proved to be a difficult season for Merson, on and off the field. Walsall went out of all cup competitions against lower league teams, and it was reported that Merson had had a rift with his wife, and had started drinking and gambling again, whilst the press reported on him inviting goalkeeper Mark Bosnich back into the game. Walsall slipped close to a second consecutive relegation. Merson responded by making several key signings on transfer deadline day; Julian Joachim, Andy Oakes, Anthony Gerrard (cousin of Steven Gerrard), Craig Pead and David Perpetuini. Merson’s side went undefeated during May 2005, securing League One status for another year.
After a difficult first season in management, Merson’s position at Walsall looked more secure as the club entered the 2005–06 season; however, he was unable to lift Walsall out of the relegation zone, and with the club in 19th place, he was sacked on 6 February 2006 after his Walsall side lost 5–0 to Brentford at Griffin Park. Despite a number of offers from clubs as high as the Championship, Merson opted to resume his playing career at part-time Conference club Tamworth, however this arrangement only lasted two games (with Merson playing only once) before he announced his retirement from professional football playing on 9 March 2006.
In February 2012, Merson agreed to play for Chiswick & District Sunday League side Whitton Athletic, he played three games scoring once against Hanwell Utd On 28 March, he made a one-off appearance for Mid Wales Football League side Welshpool Town, playing alongside fellow Sky Sports pundit Chris Kamara against Newbridge-on-Wye. Merson scored the opening goal in the 4–1 defeat at the Maes y Dre Recreation Ground.
In 2006, Merson decided to drop down the leagues and play for Tamworth, which surprised many but enthralled the Tamworth fans. However in his one and only game for the club, he didn’t play well and then he decided to retire. Merson first played for the England national team in 1991, being called up by Graham Taylor. He participated in the 1992 European Championships in Sweden. He played in the opening 0–0 draw with Denmark. England went out after another 0–0 draw against the French and a 2–1 loss to hosts Sweden.
Merson also played a part in the failed campaign to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. He played in the opening game, a 1–1 home draw with Norway. He next played against the Netherlands as a substitute for Paul Gascoigne who was injured. England were leading 2–1, but crucially conceded a late penalty for a 2–2 draw. Merson also played in the 1993 US Cup against Brazil and Germany, nearly scoring in a 2–1 defeat to the later, Bodo Illgner saving from a 20-yard shot. He returned for the critical and controversial 2–0 defeat against the Dutch in Rotterdam. Merson nearly equalised the opening Dutch goal, and hit the post with a free-kick.
England failed to qualify for the World Cup. Taylor’s successor, Terry Venables, told Merson that he would not get into the team owing to his life style of heavy drinking. In his book, How Not to be a Professional Footballer, Merson refers to an incident in Chicago while on duty with England during the US Cup. After drinking he wandered off into the city on his own. Merson ended up in a dangerous area and was involved in trying to break up a fight while very drunk himself. When the combatants turned on Merson, he fled back to the hotel. The next morning the FBI came to the hotel and briefed the players on the dangers in the city. They expressed surprise that Merson was not injured in the incident. Merson held the distinction of being the only player in England’s 1998 FIFA World Cup squad not to play for a top flight club. In that tournament, he played in England’s famous second round match against Argentina, scoring in the penalty shootout, although England eventually lost.
1998 marked the end of Merson’s international career after 21 full caps in seven years, in which he scored three times.
In August 2006, he also commenced a column for the official Arsenal FC magazine. He also continues to play for the England Legends, a 16-man squad of former internationals who have played Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and the rest of the world. Merson’s main job is on Sky Sports, where he is a match reporter and regular pundit for Gilette Soccer Saturday. Merson is often the target of good-humoured jabs from Jeff Stelling and other members of the Soccer Saturday panel; for example, in his attempts to pronounce the names of foreign players.
Merson writes a weekly column for the Daily Star’s ‘Seriously Football’ pullout every Saturday.
Since the 2012–2013 season Merson has been a co-host with John ‘fenners’ Fendley on the Sky Sports TV programme ‘Fantasy Football Club’. This programme is aired weekly on Friday nights at 10pm. The duo also co-manage a fantasy team in the Sky Fantasy ‘Celebrities’ League.
The following has been taken from PaulMerson.com (after Dinner Speaker)
Paul Merson After Dinner Speaker
Paul started his career at Arsenal, joining the club as an apprentice in 1984. After a stint at Brentford he made his debut for the Gunners in November 1986 and gradually established himself in George Graham’s successful Arsenal side of the late 1980’s.
By the 1988-89 season Paul was a regular on the right wing, at the end of Arsenal secured the First Division title. He scored ten times that season, made his debut for the England U21 side, and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year. Over the next few years more winners medals were added to his collection as Arsenal bagged another league championship in 1991, both the FA Cup and League Cup in 1993 and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 and he also made his debut for the full England side.
Paul’s career was put on the line in November 1994 when he admitted to being an alcoholic and cocaine addict. The Football Association arranged for him to undergo a three month rehabilitation programme and he returned to the side in February 1995.
In 1995-96 Paul remained a regular first team player under Arsenal’s new manager Bruce Rioch and continued to play regularly in 1996-97 following the appointment of Arsene Wenger. At the end of the 1996-97 Premiership campaign, in which Arsenal finished third, he was sold to relegated Middlesbrough in a £5 million deal making him the most expensive player ever signed by a non Premiership Club. In total he played 425 times for Arsenal, scoring 99 goals.
Paul was a key player for Middlesbrough’s promotion success as Division One runners-up in 1997-98. He also held the distinction of being the only player in England’s 1998 World Cup squad not to play for a top flight club. ln the 1998 World Cup he played in England’s famous second round match against Argentina, scoring in the penalty shootout.
In the autumn of 1998 Paul was sold to Aston Villa for E6.75 million. He quickly established himself as a fans favourite due to his creative and flamboyant brand of football. He remained at the club for nearly five years, helping them reach the 2000 FA Cup Final. He was finally given a free transfer at the end of the 2001-02 season, signing for Division One Club Portsmouth, and was instrumental in the club’s promotion to the Premiership in 2002-03.
ln the summer of 2003 Paul moved to Division One side Walsall.
In February 2004 he admitted himself to the Sierra Tucson Clinic in Arizona to seek help for his gambling addiction and missed several key games whilst Walsall slipped into the relegation zone. A couple of months after his return he was quickly thrown into the manager’s spot at Walsall following Colin Lee’s sacking. He led a gallant bid to retain Division One status, but was hindered by a harsh last minute penalty against Crystal Palace, and eventually the Club were relegated after a 3-2 victory against Rotherham United. The following month, despite relegation, Paul was rewarded with the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
In 2004-05 Walsall slipped close to a second consecutive relegation. Paul responded by making several key signings on transfer deadline day. The side then went undefeated during May 2005, securing League One status for another year.