Aston Villa fans have condemned skipper Gareth Barry after his Sunday broadside at manager Martin O’Neill as Liverpool transfer saga threatened to explode.
Barry’s comments at the weekend that his manager had failed to maintain a dialogue with him over his future and interest from Liverpool were not well received by fans on fanzine message boards with some even going so far now as to say the player should be stripped of his captaincy.
Before his outburst, Barry’s decision to leave Villa after more than 10 years loyal service had been largely understood by supporters, although many remain convinced a move to Merseyside will not actually benefit the 27-year-old’s career.
Villa’s “Captain Fantastic” is widely respected and often quoted as a “model pro” but now many fans are furious the player appears to have taken a swipe at his club. Some fans claim it is the way he has been allowed to play under O’Neill which has actually made him the target of interest from Rafa Benitez and secured his place as a regular in the England midfield.
Supporters fear the row will now drive a wedge between Barry and his manager and will also unsettle the squad, affecting team morale come the start of the new season, should the impending move to Liverpool stall. Villa have already rejected three bids frim the Reds.
O’Neill himself said that he and chairman Randy Lerner had been ‘surprised’ at Barry’s comments.
The Northern Irishman insists Barry was offered ‘a variety of options’ to keep him at Villa Park - all of which failed to halt the skipper’s desire to join Liverpool. And he claims Barry will get his wish to join Liverpool but only if the price is right and Liverpool match Villa’s £18-19 million valuation of their influential player.
O’Neill said: “My chairman and I were surprised with the comments attributed to Gareth Barry. Contrary to what was reported, we desperately wanted to keep Gareth at Villa Park and he knows that.
“We asked both Gareth and his agent to consider what had been discussed at our meeting which included a variety of options to incentivise the player.
“But Gareth came back from England international duty in June and reiterated his intention to join Liverpool and he told me so. Liverpool’s valuation of Gareth has been consistently well short of our own and at the moment remains so.
“We have made our position clear in respect of Liverpool’s interest in the captain of our club but if Liverpool meet our valuation then Gareth Barry will get his express wish to leave Villa Park.”
Barry’s comments at the weekend suggested a lack of support from his manager was driving him closer to a move.
He accused O’Neill of preferring to spend time as a BBC pundit at the European Championships 2008 rather than concentrating on the transfer situation back home.
Barry said: “My mind’s made up, I want to join Liverpool. There’s no going back, it’s time for me to move on. I’m desperate to play Champions League football and that’s why I have to leave Villa. Villa kept saying they wanted me to stay, but I have not heard from the manager for weeks.
“It’s seven weeks now since the season finished, but while the gaffer’s found time to be a pundit for the BBC at Euro 2008, he hasn’t found the time to speak to me.”
He continued: “Rafa Benitez has shown how much he wants me at Anfield but have Villa offered me anything to try to persuade me my future is at Villa Park, not Anfield? Not a thing.”
Barry is eager to push a move through this week to spare him having to return to pre-season training with O’Neill’s side ahead of the Intertot campaign which kicks off in a fortnight.
The skipper said: “I hope the Villa fans understand. I have given my all for the club for 10 years and I’m only leaving because now I need to test myself at the very highest level.
“And I can honestly say if Villa were in the Champions League I wouldn’t even consider leaving this great club.”