Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill is standing firm in his valuation of midfielder Gareth Barry, but is finding that Liverpool are too. Villa value the player at £18m, a figure close to what Liverpool paid for Fernando Torres a year ago, and Liverpool quite bluntly don’t value him at that level. Villa have also more or less run out of bridges to burn with the player, having banned him from pre-season training, banned him from all Villa property, fined him two weeks wages and made it clear he won’t be going on their pre-season training camp. This is their club captain, who himself can’t be accused of having stepped out of line at all in the time since Liverpool’s interest was first made public.
That interest was first made public by Martin O’Neill, who had a rant about Liverpool leaking their first bid, of £10m, to the local press on Merseyside. In reality the leak had not come from Liverpool at all, but O’Neill continued his angry response to the interest via the media. Patrik Berger, already set to leave in the summer with his contract at an end, was sent packing early for saying that he thought a move to Anfield would be good for Barry. O’Neill discussed the saga regularly in the papers, and then continued to talk about it on the TV as part of his summer job with the BBC.
O’Neill probably feels he can get one over on Liverpool in the style he did with Emile Heskey when he was boss at Leicester. Liverpool memorably paid an extra £2m for Heskey in 2000, in the days before transfer windows, to get the players’ services in March rather than wait until the summer. O’Neill claimed he had tried hard to retain Heskey, but he did eventually let him go for £11m.
He said at the time: “We as a club did everything we could to persuade Emile to stay with us for as long as possible, but it was his insistence that the deal had to go through before this weekend. The club had been negotiating terms which we felt would keep him here, really pushing the boat out to show how much we valued him as a player with us. But apparently it was not enough. I believe our players will be as bitterly disappointed as I am at Emile’s decision, coming as it does when we have just won a trophy, are looking towards Europe and had put together the strongest squad in the club’s history.”
For all the suggestions in that statement that Heskey had shown a lack of loyalty, four months later O’Neill resigned from Leicester himself, despite having just won a trophy, looking towards Europe and putting together “the strongest squad in the club’s history”. He joined Celtic instead.
Little seems to have changed, in that he made similar noises about Barry, although it’s unlikely any other clubs will be looking for his services as coach this summer. He has now, rather than accept that he may have messed up his hopes of getting a higher price for Barry, decided to send a letter to Anfield.
According to reports the price he is demanding for a player he can’t use again remains at £18m, and although he has now decided he would accept Steve Finnan as part of that deal, he only values Finnan at £1m. Rafa values Barry at under £15m, and Finnan at £2m, meaning there remains a gap.
O’Neill was full of himself again when discussing the deal publicly: “Liverpool have come back to us and we have responded to their proposal with a letter. We’re still waiting to hear back from Liverpool after putting that proposal to them.”
Failing to see that Liverpool will eventually switch to other targets, or just forget the deal completely, he said: “It’s really up to Liverpool. I really don’t know how it’s going to work out at the moment. I’m sure there will be some sort of resolution at some stage or another.”
Villa seem to be extremely low on funds, having been unable to find a shirt sponsor for next season and so instead deciding to give the space away to a charity for the season. The manager needs as much money from Liverpool as possible so he can improve his squad. They’ve already made it clear they can’t afford the £10m fee they had agreed for Scott Carson at the outset of his loan, and are interested in Finnan at their cut-price valuation after losing the player they had been using in that position. If Liverpool did pull out of the deal, O’Neill’s plans for the summer would be in ruins.
One of those plans is for the signing of Steve Sidwell, and at least that one seems likely to go through, with reports claiming his £5.5m switch from Chelsea will be finalised this week. But Villa are short on numbers, with one report claiming only 13 recognised first team players were available for their pre-season visit to Switzerland. Little wonder that O’Neill is trying to force so much money from Anfield. He claimed it was all in hand: “We need players and we know what we have to do. We’re continuing to work on other deals.”
Carson could find himself playing for Stoke next season, according to some reports, but it seems that the newly promoted side’s more genuine interest is in Moroccan youngster Nabil El Zhar.
The traditional summer speculation seems to be driving Liverpool’s Israeli international Yossi Benayoun mad. He said: “It seems the media in Israel and England are in a contest to see who’s more bored during the slow summer months. The media in England published a story that Rafael Benitez told me finally that I’m staying at Liverpool. These reports are the work of the writer’s imagination because, even before the season ended, we determined that I would be staying.”
It sounds like it’s a special relationship between the little guy and his boss: “I have very good chemistry with Benitez. He loves me. He bought me. I really enjoy being with him, moreover, I had an excellent season. I even surprised myself.”
And he says Rafa won’t even listen to offers: “Benitez didn’t want to hear and isn’t prepared to hear about any possibility of letting me go at any price. Liverpool is good for me and it was always clear I want to stay and Liverpool wants me. I got better offers financially but these tempting offers don’t change my mind.”