Milan Baros is away on international duty with the Czech Republic this week, but when he returns to England on Thursday it could be for a medical with Aston Villa.
Baros will be lining up for the Czech team in their friendly against Sweden, a team he feels much more comfortable playing for. After being largely ignored by the man who signed him – Gerard Houllier – Baros was hoping for more chances under Rafael Benitez. The relationship between Baros and Benitez got off to a bad start when Benitez arrived at Anfield during the European Championships last summer. Benitez flew out to speak to Liverpool’s representatives in the England squad – Owen, Gerrard and Carragher – but did not go to see Baros. Baros sulked and asked why he wasn’t paid a visit.
As the season went on, Baros wasn’t used in the way he would have liked. He wanted to be played as a centre forward in every game, playing the full 90 minutes of as many of those games as possible. Used on the wing once or twice, used as a substitute regularly and also removed from the pitch with a fair amount of time still to play was what he got though, and he sulked all the more.
The one refreshing aspect of the frustration from Baros is that he’s not talked about leaving for more money, nor has he spoken of wanting to move to a "bigger" club. He wants to play football, pure and simple – or so he says.
The summer started with a move to Valencia falling through, and has progressed through interest from Lyon, Monaco and West Ham coming to nothing. Everton said they were interested but would never have been able to afford the wages for the top scorer in the European Championships, even if they could afford the fee. Schalke 04 came in for the player, claiming they could afford to pay him the wages he wanted – but couldn’t afford the transfer fee and the deal fell through. The one club linked throughout the summer were Aston Villa. Liverpool wanted £7million for the player, Villa refused to pay more than £6million for him. Now it seems that Villa have agreed a compromise fee with Liverpool, of £6.75million, and Baros could be signing this week.
Certainly Baros says he’s agreed his own terms with Villa – he says: "Villa increased their offer and we’ve come to an agreement on the financial front. But that doesn’t mean that it’s already a done deal. Villa are a quality club, and I don’t consider this a backward step at all. My situation will be better there."
So what stops it from being a done deal? Baros will be nervous about leaving the European Champions but will have a friend at Villa in his former mentor Patric Berger. The strikers hopes of playing for his boyhood heroes Barcelona will have to be put on hold for now, and playing in Spain does not seem to be an option at all. Spending a couple of days on international duty will give him the chance to mull the decision over.
Rafa Benitez has been criticised once too often by Baros, and Benitez, nice man though he is, won’t stand for the attitude shown by Baros. Baros has made his own bed, and now accepts that his Anfield days are over: "Everything leads me to believe that there’s nothing for it but to say my goodbyes to Liverpool. The manager has his own view of things and intends to focus on other players. Me, I have no intention of keeping the stands warm. It happens, that’s football. I’m not bitter."
Although he’s far from the finished article, Baros is an outstanding player. If a coach can get him to accept that he still needs to improve certain aspects of his game, Baros can become a world beater. David O’Leary proved he can handle difficult players during his time as Leeds boss, perhaps O’Leary will be the man to turn Baros into the finished article.