Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill has given his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger the benefit of the doubt after the Frenchman joined the unwelcome race to sign Gareth Barry.
First Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez made it publicly known he wanted to bring the Brighton-born player to Anfield, sparking a long-winded transfer circus, then on Wednesday England manager Fabio Capello said the saga was affecting Barry’s form. Now Wenger has voiced his admiration for Barry.
When asked about his interest, Wenger said: “There is always interest. I cannot tell you much more. He’s one of the players we follow.”
Wenger was clearly suggesting that Villa’s £18 million asking price for the England international was too high, especially as Barry is now ineligible to play in the Champions League after his appearance in the UEFA Cup for Villa.
“Once somebody cannot play for you in Europe, it devalues the player for the season. It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t buy him,” Wenger added.
Under the circumstances it would be understandable for O’Neill to completely lose his patience. However, the Villa boss was a restrained figure as he answered yet more questions over his former captain’s future.
“I have heard nothing from Arsene Wenger,” said O’Neill, who added he would not take the matter any further, even though he could report Wenger to the FA for his comments over a contracted Villa player.
“I felt the comments were really strange. I heard them on Thursday night. I think that Arsene doesn’t usually make comments like that so I think it must have been a bit of a slip.
“Gareth will play for us at Stoke City and I emphasis our view point is that we would love him to stay at our football club.”
O’Neill also refuted Capello’s claim that all the uncertainty surrounding Barry’s future was affecting the 27-year-old’s form.
“Mr Capello is entitled to his opinion,” said O’Neill. “My own view is that Gareth has played exceptionally well for us. He came on against Odense at left back when Freddy Bouma got injured and did very well. He did remarkably well in Iceland and scored and I thought on Sunday he did exceptionally well.
“In terms of his fitness it is getting there. It has been a bit stop start for him. He hasn’t had a proper pre-season as such because of the uncertainty, but it certainly hasn’t affected him.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill said he had not wanted to sell Scotland striker Shaun Maloney back to Celtic but had allowed him to leave in the best interests of both parties.
Maloney completed a £1 million move to Celtic Park on Thursday and O’Neill will now look to bring in replacements Reading’s Kevin Doyle said to be under consideration.
“I am disappointed he has gone and would have preferred if he had stayed,” O’Neill said. “His best position he feels is either centre forward with someone strong alongside him, as he had against Chelsea last season and he scored two that day, or maybe coming in from the left and taking players on.
“You could say the two players keeping him out are Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young. Perhaps he felt his chances were limited but I didn’t see it like that.
“I also think the call to return to Celtic was very strong and so in the interest of everyone we decided to let him go, even though I am disappointed.
“I could have stopped it but in the end I thought it was in the best interests of all parties. In the scheme of things I would have preferred for him to stay.
“I think homesickness was a genuine problem early on, that was understandable. I am disappointed but I wish him every success and I hope he has a great time at Celtic.
“I am hoping that we can add some other players to the squad. We are trying to because Shaun has left but if he hadn’t have gone I would still be looking to try and get a couple more people in if we are going to stay in it over the next few months.”