Staff writer

Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa midfielder, has given his strongest indication to date that he will stay at the club, provided they can finish in the top four of the Premier League.

Barry’s long-term future at Villa Park has been the subject of much conjecture after his aborted move to top-flight rivals Liverpool during a summer-long saga.

The England international confirmed last month that he would spend the remainder of this season at Villa to avoid further speculation in January’s transfer window.

However, with his latest comments, Barry, Villa’s current longest-serving player, seems to have gone one step further towards committing his future to the club.

Prolonging his 10-year stay at Villa hinges upon Martin O’Neill’s team breaking Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal’s hold on the top four places.

It is not inconceivable for a team who have been tipped by many experts, including Sir Alex Ferguson, as favourites to challenge the Premier League’s established elite.

“That would be a massive achievement for this club,” said Barry, whose contract expires in the summer of 2010.

“If I am playing Champions League football, there is no need to look elsewhere.

“That would have to be a definite. I don’t want to be eating my own words.”

One factor in Barry’s increased enjoyment at his one and only club is the form of central midfield partner and former Chelsea fringe player Steve Sidwell.

At a time when Villa are promoting a collection of players and famous fans’ favourite recipes, it is quite fitting that Barry should savour the “bite” that Sidwell has brought to the table.

Barry, a homegrown hero, revealed at an autograph session to launch claret and blue cookbook Villa on a Plate at Villa Park yesterday afternoon that his own signature dish was, appropriately enough, British beef.

That there was no mention of accompanying it with a hint of ginger was surprising given how he and flame-haired companion Sidwell have complemented each other so exquisitely so far this season.

“Steve has settled in well,” said Barry, who along with Sidwell has been given licence to attack in Villa’s 4-5-1 formation.

“He had a few injury problems early on which halted his progress, but since he has established himself in the team, he has done very well.

“He is a top player. He works very hard for the team and bites into challenges and he likes to get forward and make an attacking impression too. He likes to get forward, but makes sure he tracks back defensively too.

“He is a good box-to-box midfielder who can link up play as well. Both parts of his game are very good.

“Steve is capable of scoring goals like the one he smashed home against Everton.

“He did exactly the same at the JJB Stadium in the game against Wigan and he has a history of scoring great strikes during his time with Reading and Chelsea.

“He has that in his locker. The lads weren’t surprised to see that one fly in.”