Liverpool target Gareth Barry told Aston Villa fans he thought they were “fantastic”, but said his future needed sorting, and “the sooner the better”.
Barry said it was now up to his club to decide if they were going to accept a bid from Liverpool for his services, and he hoped to have a meeting with his manager and his club’s owner as soon as he gets back from international duty. He’s expected to be named the latest one-off England captain for the weekend clash with Trinidad and Tobago. Also in the squad for Sunday’s match were Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Reds striker -for now at least – Peter Crouch. Former Reds full-back Stephen Warnock has also travelled.
Barry was speaking to the Birmingham Mail, who had sent out a message asking fans to try and persuade Barry to stay, hoping to rally support for the campaign with arguments like this: “Such has been the club’s transformation under O’Neill, he could soon realise that ambition (Champions League Football) with Villa anyway – he is already getting another taste of Europe in the Inter Toto Cup next season, which could lead to UEFA Cup glory.”
And there lies the problem for Villa fans. Comparing the Inter Toto with the Champions League is hardly likely to persuade Barry to stay, but he was grateful for the messages from supporters: “It means the world. I have always had a great relationship with the fans. They have been fantastic to me and I have noticed they have said some great things about me. I’ve seen quite a few of those messages. And I say it again. It means the world to me because it is all about appreciating the fans because they appreciate the Villa players.”
No doubt Barry will be sad to say his goodbyes, but so was Fernando Torres a year ago when he left boyhood club Atlético Madrid.
For now he’s been focussing on his international commitments – as well as looking ahead to the Trinidad game he played in the friendly win over USA on Wednesday, setting Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard up for his goal. But when he gets home his attention will move back to sorting out his future: “It’s always been my plan to get the two England games out of the way. My future will sort itself out. It is all about a big decision that I have to make and once we have got the Trinidad game out of the way, we will be speaking to the manager again.”
When he and his agent do speak to the manager again, he’s hopeful it will result in a quick decision: “I’m a pretty easy-going person so the speculation doesn’t bother me. The question about my future is one that is always asked. I can deal with it. Things will take care of themselves and hopefully the sooner the better.”
As Barry says, there is no obligation on Villa’s part to sell him, but he wants talks with his bosses about Liverpool’s interest: “It is a big decision and it won’t be made until the club have said something. I have got two years on my contract. The club own me. So the ball is always going to be in their court. It is something that me, the chairman and the manager will be speaking about. I have had one meeting with Martin O’Neill and Randy Lerner and we put our thoughts across the table, and I am sure we’ll speak again.”
For now he had the decency not to declare in public just how much he wants to move to Anfield, it seems he’s going to take some persuading to decide his future would be best in Birmingham: “I think it would be unfair to make too many comments now. Any interest from a big club is flattering, but until a bid is accepted or turned away then there is no decision to make.”
Barry has had varying advice in the media from various colleagues and former colleagues on whether he should stay or go; to Villa fans his departure would be on a par with Steven Gerrard leaving Liverpool. One of those team-mates giving advice was former Liverpool midfielder and subject of a catchy (if light on lyrics) song from the Kop, Patrik Berger. 34-year-old Berger was already on his way out of Villa Park at the end of the season, with his contract due up and no intention from O’Neill of extending it. But O’Neill sent him off on a week’s gardening leave when he heard Berger had -through the media – strongly recommended to Barry that he should move to Anfield.
Berger has now found his next club, after signing a two-year deal that takes him back to his homeland. The former Slavia Prague player will be on the books of rivals Sparta Prague from next season. He left Slavia in 1995 for a spell in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, with Liverpool signing him a year later following his performances for the Czech Republic in Euro 96, including a goal in the Wembley final. He had a spell at Portsmouth after leaving Liverpool, and turned down a chance to move back there this summer, preferring to spend some time at “home”. He told reporters: “It’s a decision made for family reasons and I wanted to return to my country after 13 years abroad.”
Meanwhile Liverpool’s Norwegian left-back John Arne Riise still can’t work out if he’s got a future at Anfield. Speaking to Norway’s Dagbladet, he says he’s now going to send his agent in to find out. The lack of an offer of a new contract (Riise has a year left on his current one) and him being allegedly offered to other clubs in part exchange for other players doesn’t seem to have sent out a strong enough signal. Riise said: “My agent is set to find out what is happening. I have to get things sorted out before pre-season starts. Those who have played internationals are due to meet up on 7th July. I can’t wait and wait for an answer. I have to get an answer now.” Riise scored a penalty for Norway against Uruguay on Wednesday night.
Juventus remain determined to buy Xabi Alonso, and are confident they’ll do so despite Liverpool’s £16m demands being much higher than they were hoping to pay. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez paid £10.5m for the Spaniard in his first summer at Anfield and gave him a new contract last summer. Both Alonso and the club maintain they never initiated the possible move to Juve.
Liverpool won’t allow Alonso to leave for less than he is worth, but reports in Spain suggest they are facing a similar situation with an attempt to buy Albert Riera. A bid of £9.5m, plus Sebastian Leto, has reportedly been turned down by Espanyol. The Spanish side say that with three years left on his contract the winger is worth £19m. That would put Riera on a par with Fernando Torres, who cost Liverpool little over that figure when he signed from Spain last summer, suggesting Espanyol will need to rethink their valuation if he is to leave. A club can ask whatever they like for a player under contract, as Liverpool and Villa are with Alonso and Barry, but any club really does want to sell a player then it needs to find a valuation that is realistic.
The inclusion of Sebastian Leto in any deal for Riera is believed to be on a loan basis only. The Argentinean youngster looks likely to go to Beijing with his country for the Olympics, having been an unused sub for the under-23 side that beat Catalonia in a friendly at the weekend. Another Liverpool youngster, Emiliano Insua, played 90 minutes of the game and will almost certainly be going to Beijing, as will Liverpool’s Brazilian midfielder Lucas. Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez is resigned to losing the youngsters for the opening weeks of the season, but is pretty unhappy at the chance of Javier Mascherano, just out of the age-range at 23, joining the Argentine squad as one of three overage players. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo yesterday, Benítez hinted at talks to persuade Mascherano not to travel: “This is a very difficult situation for us because we have Lucas who is eligible through his age with Brazil and Mascherano who can play for Argentina as an over-age player, so I need to discuss his position with him. We will see what happens. We have some time so we need to wait and we will try to find a solution with Mascherano that will be the best for the club and the best for the player. With Lucas and Leto we will accept the situation.”
Rafa understands why the national coaches choose the players they do, but that doesn’t make his planning for the beginning of the season any easier: “It is a difficult situation because if the countries want the best players to take part they have to go to the professional clubs. But from our point of view, we have to manage the situation as well as we can.”