Andre Gray hoping to set positive example of how people can change
Andre Gray accepts he may forever be tarnished by the homophobic tweets he sent five years ago, but the Burnley striker hopes he can now be considered an example of how people can change.
The 25-year-old's world was turned upside down back in August as just hours after scoring his first Premier League goal against Liverpool, historic homophobic tweets he sent while still a non-league player back in 2012 resurfaced.
Gray was handed a four-game suspension from the Football Association and ordered to attend a mandatory education course before returning to the Clarets fold and scoring four times in the final two fixtures of 2016.
It was quite a year for Gray, who won the Championship Player of the Year as Burnley went up and started dating Little Mix singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock, but the re-emergence of his previous tweets will be the act some will always remember him by.
"I'm sure people who have met me in the last two or three years will know who I really am; a lot of people have defended me because they know I am not that kind of person," he said.
"(But) It's going to be out there for the rest of my life now and I've got to live with that."
While Gray may not be able to escape his past in some respects, the fact he has emerged from his tough upbringing in Wolverhampton to become a Premier League footballer is one he wants to embrace.
"I am a role model now to young people, they see what I am now," he said.
"People look up to me now I'm playing for Burnley, and to see (the tweets) and the way it was portrayed was obviously difficult, especially when you want to explain that it was a long time ago.
"Where I am from certain things were not exposed to me. Thankfully football set me free from those kind of things. You meet people and you see other sides of life, the way people live differently.
"It opens your eyes in terms of sexuality and religion and everything. You realise that everyone is the same at the end of the day."
Clarets boss Sean Dyche will have to shuffle the pack with Scott Arfield and Johann Berg Gudmundsson unlikely to feature due to hamstring injuries picked in the FA Cup draw at Sunderland.
George Boyd is set to be recalled to the starting line-up alongside goalkeeper Tom Heaton and defender Ben Mee but Joey Barton may have to settle for a place on the bench.
Meanwhile, Southampton manager Claude Puel has warned his players there will be little time to revel in the EFL Cup win over Liverpool.
The Saints will take a slender 1-0 lead up to Anfield for the second leg of their semi-final later this month following Nathan Redmond's first-half strike at St Mary's Stadium on Wednesday night.
But Southampton will be out to secure a first league win since December 18 and leave with all three points - something eight teams have failed to do against the Clarets on their own ground so far this season.
"It is difficult to play away to Burnley, (against) a strong and physical team. It will be a different game to the one against Liverpool," the Frenchman said at a press conference.
"Normally we are (the team) with the possession, but it is always difficult to play Burnley at home and it will be important to play with space and quality.
"This team is dangerous in counter attack and (on) free-kicks. We know all this, so it is important for us to stay focused."
Puel accepts recovery time will be key, both physically and mentally.
"It is just not a game three days after, it is many games for these players," said the Saints boss, who has also managed a Europa League campaign in his first season at the helm.
"It is the first time for Southampton that they play all of these games in all of these competitions, so it is new and important to learn from it.
"I trained many games with Lille - (once) we played 64 official games in the season, we lost against Sevilla in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and we also finished second in the (French) table to qualify for the Champions League.
"It is important to have the ability to pass through all these games and have the recovery, you have to also keep the analysis without euphoria.
"It is not just the physical work, it is always a good recovery with the head, without losing energy out of the games."
Puel confirmed he would again not select Jose Fonte while the Portugal defender sorts out his future after he handed in a transfer request and Steven Davis needs a fitness test after coming off against Liverpool.
Forward Charlie Austin is recovering from a shoulder injury while midfielder Sofiane Boufal has returned early from African Nations Cup duty because of a knee problem.