BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
Former Aston Villa midhelder Paul Merson believes it would be an “absolute tragedy” if skipper Gareth Barry was to leave the Midlands’ top club to pursue a career with Liverpool, claiming the “grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
And Merse, as he is known to his fans, says he should know – he left Arsenal for Middlesbrough in 1997 and admits within a week he realised he had made one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
Merson, who played for Villa between 1998 and 2002, making 126 appearances in all competitions, believes Barry would do well to stay at Villa where he is the club’s star man and an England regular to boot.
The 40-year-old fears if Barry did pursue a move to Anheld he might live to regret it although the deal is currently in stalemate with Villa waiting to see if Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is prepared to come in with a fourth and final improved bid.
Merson, now a television football pundit, said: “You can understand why Gareth wants to go to Liverpool and play Champions League football and he has been at Villa a long time.
But this team is really going places now under the leadership of Martin O’Neill.
“It would be an absolute tragedy if Villa lost him – he is by far and away the club’s best player.”
Merson, who also managed Walsall between April 2004 and February 2006 – continued: “Barry, from what I know of him as a player, loves to play football and likes playing football week in, week out. I am not sure he would get to play football week in, week out at Liverpool.
“At the end of the day he could go there and don’t forget they still have to play in a qualiher for the Champions League and they could get knocked out and then they are out of Europe altogether. Villa on the other hand are in the Intertoto Cup and should progress into the Uefa [Cup].
“My advice to Barry would be that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
“I was at Arsenal and had a phenomenal time there but I had got to the stage in my career where I started to think less about my football and take it for granted. I went to Middlesborough but knew within a week that it was a big mistake.
“I was lucky because I went on to play at Villa and had a terrihc time. I admit when it came to the time for me to leave I cried. I loved it here.”
Merson was speaking at an event at Aston Villa last night which doubled as a testimonal night for Walsall star Darren Wrack who is a good friend of Merson but has recently admitted to a gambling addiction.
His former Saddlers’ boss has been helping him through the troubles which are now behind him, with Merson having experienced an even worse battle with addictions to gambling as well as alcohol and drugs himself.
Merson said: “I used to tell my professionals at Walsall not to take their careers for granted because they are over so soon and I don’t think
then they knew what I was on about.
“Darren, however I believe, has come to value his career now. He was certainly the star player for me when I wasWalsall boss. He has been through a hard time and that is why want to raise money for him.”
Aston Villa has arranged another pre-season friendly with the annoucement the club will go out to Switzerland next month.
The match, thought to have been arranged through contacts manager Martin O’Neill has made while out in Switzerlandworking as a BBC pundit on coverage of theEuropean-Championships 2008, sees the team fly out to play at the UTO Stadium on Saturday July 12 in a game which kicks off at 4pm.
The fixture comes just a week before Villa’s Intertoto campaign begins and will give the manager a chance to survey his side although he has yet to make any signings in this summer’s transfer window.
Villa will have a fairier picture of who they might face in the Intertoto competition after this weekend with TPS Turku 3-2 up as they enter the second leg of their hrst round clash with Northern Irish side Lisburn Distillery on Sunday. The winner of that match will meet Odense BK of Denmark to see who plays Villa.
The Zurich friendly is Villa’s fourth of the summer after conhrmation recently that the club will travel to Lincoln City on July 15, Walsall on July 22 and to face Reading on August 2.