Aston Villa have won the latest battle in their attempts to retain their influential captain Gareth Barry, though whether it proves to be the decisive skirmish of an increasingly bloody war remains to be seen.
Villa claimed on Wednesday night that Liverpool, Barry’s long-term suitors, had missed the 5pm deadline which the club set earlier this week to find the £18?million transfer fee which manager Martin O’Neill has demanded from the outset of the longest-running saga of the summer.
Within five minutes of its passing the club issued a statement on its website, which was almost euphoric in its nature and which stated the England international will be continuing his ten-year relationship with Villa: “Aston Villa can announce that Gareth Barry will be staying with the club following the interest from Liverpool over recent months,” it read.
“During discussions in the past few days, a final deadline to conclude this episode was set that all parties were aware of and agreed to. This deadline has now passed and so Gareth will remain with Villa.”
The latest line in the proverbial sand had been drawn at a meeting between Villa and Barry and his representatives on Monday. It was re-emphasised by chairman Randy Lerner during a telephone conversation with Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry on Wednesday morning and Villa are adamant they heard nothing more from Parry by the time the deadline had passed.
But that barely hints at the confusion that surrounded the transfer for much of yesterday afternoon. One report claimed that Liverpool had found the money and had agreed to pay, with Reds’ former Birmingham City right back Steve Finnan accompanying a barrow-load of cash on its way down the M6 as part of the deal.
Indeed there was a suggestion, emanating from Merseyside, that Liverpool had found the money but that Villa had tried, late in the day, to muddy the waters by changing the payment schedule.
That accusation is vehemently denied at Villa Park, however, and sources at the club maintain the Anfield side had never offered the asking price. Indeed, Villa maintain, the last formal bid they received came a month ago and was for £13?million.
With several of their players virtually in the exit lounge at John Lennon Airport, including another former Birmingham City man in winger Jermaine Pennant, Liverpool’s cashflow situation appears to have eased.
They have proof they can pay for Barry and so it seems all that is required is the offer Villa have always wanted. What is not clear, though, is whether O’Neill will countenance another edition of the Barry soap opera.
He may try to renegotiate Barry’s contract, though the player will not have much of an appetite to do that and his state of mind can only be guessed at.
If, after months of quibbling, Liverpool can finally meet Villa’s valuation, it is difficult to see quite how the 27-year-old returns to the Villa side knowing his desired move is just a handshake away. For that reason alone, it would be bold to think that July 30 was Armistice Day in Aston.
O’Neill, however, believes the end has finally been reached as he expressed his delight that he had won his war of wills with opposite number Rafael Benitez.
“We’re all relieved that there is resolution and closure to the transfer saga,” he said. “At a very positive meeting on Monday, it was agreed between Gareth, his agent, Mr Lerner and myself that a deadline should be communicated to Liverpool to finally resolve the situation. Liverpool were informed and that deadline came and passed. Now we can all look forward to the season ahead with relief, anticipation and ambition.”