Gareth Barry’s on-off transfer to Liverpool has taken yet another dramatic turn with Aston Villa manager Martin O Neill saying his former captain is free to go.
Just 72 hours after the club issued a statement saying that Barry would be staying at Villa Park after Liverpool missed a deadline of 5pm on Wednesday to find his £18 million fee, O’Neill was forced to concede that he cannot hold on to his England midfield star because the player is hell-bent on moving to Merseyside.
The news will be a blow to supporters including the 2,000 who made the trip to Reading for Saturday’s friendly and who had once again chanted their skipper’s name, believing his future lay with them for at least another year. All will no doubt back their manager’s stance, however, that it is not good to keep a player who does not have his heart in the cause.
First signs that all was not well came when Barry was left on the bench for the game when he had been expected to deputise at left-back for the injured Wilfred Bouma. That sent the vultures of doom circling again until O’Neill came out to his post-match press conference immediately after the 1-1 draw.
O’Neill is clearly angry with Liverpool over the way this saga has run and the fact that they found money for Tottenham Hotspur striker Robbie Keane after courting Barry, who was said to be their priority target. He revealed that Barry and his agent, Alex Black, had disclosed at a meeting on Thursday that the 27-year-old was still very keen to follow his dream move to Liverpool.
Having given that news some thought, O’Neill said he had now reached the decision that it was better to let Barry go, saying he did not want players at the club who did not want to play for Villa.
O’Neill said: “I had a meeting with Gareth and his agent with our chairman [Randy Lerner] last Monday and all parties agreed to a deadline of 5pm on Wednesday. That wasn’t a coercion, it was an agreement. It wasn’t a case of the deadline being imposed to confound everyone. Liverpool made their position clear before the deadline that they were unable to do anything - reports that they missed the deadline by some 15 minutes are simply untrue - and so because of that, the club was naturally delighted.
“We thought that was it. Unfortunately, the following morning Gareth and his agent came to see me and said that even though the deadline had passed, they still felt that Liverpool could do the deal.
“I was disappointed but I gave it some thought and realised there is little point in pretending. Gareth would want to join Liverpool and there would be no deadline. I have agreed with Gareth now. That’s it. Liverpool have all the time in the world to do it, if they want to raise the money.”
O Neill added: “Liverpool made their intentions clear almost four months ago and they have known for some time what the price would be. They have been able to find money for another player who wasn’t in the equation, certainly four months ago and two months ago.
“It is as clear as daylight that Gareth wants to go. I have got to go and get on now and manage a football club.”
O’Neill’s dismay at still losing his best player may have been shared with Reading manager Steve Coppell who has conceded that England full back Nicky Shorey has played his last game for the Royals.”
Shorey, thought to be of interest to Villa, also did not play at the Madejski Stadium. Coppell said: “I think he will probably be gone this week. We now have to see what will we do if he isn’t here. I would dearly love him to be playing for us but we have had an offer for him.
“I do not feel disposed to letting him go for nothing and the offer we have had is not realistic. But if the club come in with an offer which matches market value - and he has played for England - then he will go.”
Portsmouth are favourites to sign the 26-year-old. Pompey assistant manager Tony Adams was in the stands on Saturday.