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Bozzy went up to Gregory and called him a coward - Merson.

MARK Bosnich called manager John Gregory a coward during the turbulent last few weeks of his Villa career.

And in a mixed season for the Australian goalkeeper, Bosnich stormed out of training one day because Alan Thompson squirted a bottle of water at him.

Merson also says he warned Bosnich, now struggling for his place at Manchester United, that leaving Villa might be a mistake.

The revelations come in Paul Merson's new book, Hero and Villain, which was published this week.

Merson was good friends with Bosnich, the 'keeper had been among those who urged Gregory to sign the England forward from Middlesbrough a year ago.

But Merson said Bosnich could not resist a dig in the ribs at Gregory near the end of the season the day before the home match against Charlton.

The Villa boss had not been seeing eye-to-eye with Bosnich since dropping him for the United game, saying he had not recovered from injury.

Bosnich had asked for 24 hours to prove his fitness, but Gregory had not given him that time. "When Bozzy arrived for training, the outfield players were in a circle, passing the ball, and he came over," said Merson.

"'Morning Harry,' he said to Steve Harrison. 'Morning Ronald,' he said to another coach, Ross McLaren, who is nicknamed after Ronald McDonald because he is so fat.

"'Morning coward,' he said to John Gregory. It looked like the boss was pretending not to hear but everyone else did. I told Bozzy after that he was out of order."

Merson also highlighted Bosnich's stubborn nature during his final season at Villa before heading for Manchester United on a Bosman Ruling transfer.

He recalls one moment last October before Villa's trip to Coventry when he accused Bosnich of acting like a child after his spat with Thompson.

"As usual, Mark was last into training," said Merson.

"He always arrives just before it starts.

"Bozzy was down to his underpants when Alan Thompson sprayed his water bottle at him. 'I can't have that,' Bozzy said and just got dressed and went home. Everyone was gobsmacked.

"We had training and not enough goalkeepers for finishing practice.

"Then in training, for a joke, I sprayed myself with water and said I was going home, which eased the tension.

"The boss was in a difficult position. If he didn't sort it, someone else might think they can just take off whenever they want.

"Then again, Bozzy only had half a season left on his contract. He's a world class goalkeeper and we needed him to be performing well as we were top of the league."

But Merson said that he let Bosnich know how he felt the next day.

"I had a real go at Bozzy," he said.

"He was changing with the youth team and I told him he was behaving like a kid as well as setting a bad example to them.

"He replied that what Alan had done was childish. Two wrongs don't make a right, I said.

"I've done some daft things, and I grant you taking cocaine wasn't exactly a good example to kids, but things, and I, have changed.

"Mark was good about it. I thought he would have a go back at me but he just listened.

"I do think he respects me and appreciated saying this to him in private rather than in front of the lads."

But Merson said that Bosnich had still not fully made his peace by the morning of the match at Highfield Road.

It was at this time that Bosnich was being strongly linked with a move to Roma.

"We met at the training ground for a pre-match meal and I was disappointed that Bozzy had not fully integrated himself back among the team," he said.

"In fact, he sat on his own at a table, facing the wall. He had not apologised or said anything. Gareth Southgate and I were annoyed but decided to let it go until after the game rather than interfere in a delicate situation beforehand. Bozzy does have this amazing ability though not to let peripheral issues spoil his game. He was fine during the team meeting, then he made two world class saves during the match."

Yet Merson admits that Bosnich was one of the players at Villa he was able to confide in: "We'll miss him because he's such a great 'keeper," he said.

"I will miss him because he's such a good mate."
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Author:Hill, Graham
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 3, 1999
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