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Barry saga leaving a sour taste

Phil McNulty | 12:34 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008

It would not be summer without a transfer saga - and with Cristiano Ronaldo taking a few days off from telling people what they want to hear depending whether they are Spanish or English - Gareth Barry has kindly stepped into the breach.

Barry will leave Villa and end up at Liverpool. Liverpool know that. Aston Villa know that.

But what is taking place in between is an undignified mess that has done no favours for Liverpool, their manager Rafael Benitez and Barry.

Benitez is not flavour of the month at Villa Park, and to understand why we might go back to words that came from his own mouth in early May when one of his players was attracting a little attention.

He said: "A £15m price tag for Crouch would not be unreasonable."

A price of £15m is apparently not unreasonable for a player he studiously ignored for much of last season and who is not a regular in the England side - according to Benitez logic.

The logic, however, looks twisted when set against his opening offer for a player who is now a fixture in Fabio Capello's England side and who was a regular for Villa last season, delivering a string of outstanding performances.

O'Neill said Benitez can "come up and talk about a £10m offer which includes some money and some unnamed players which would make Gareth worth about £2m."

Villa's manager was not only furious that the bid became public. He was furious with the bid itself.

And since then relations between the clubs have gone downhill fast. Offers increased and rejected. Barry criticising O'Neill in print. O'Neill responding by banning Barry from Villa's premises. Villa firing off invective in Liverpool's direction.

I reckon Villa's price tag is ridiculous, but so was Benitez's arithmetic - especially when he reportedly wants £16m for Xabi Alonso, the man he intends to replace with Barry.

O'Neill has seen Manchester United pay around £17m and £18m for Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick - an England duo ousted by Barry at international level - and wants a piece of that action himself.

Throw in the acrimony between the clubs and you can see why O'Neill is digging his heels in the face of Benitez's original tactics.

Liverpool will simply edge closer to the £18m price tag and hope Villa blink first - but pride is involved now and when that comes through the door common sense goes out of the window.

The Anfield hierarchy has hurdles to negotiate before Barry is standing underneath the "This Is Anfield" sign - and O'Neill's hostility towards Benitez has made the obstacles even more difficult to negotiate.

Liverpool's board, perfectly understandably, do not want to end up with both Alonso and Barry, especially as plenty of their fans do not actually regard one as massively better than the other.

They will be within their rights to tell Benitez he can have one but not both. And will want to use money from Alonso's sale to buy Barry.

I must confess I have never shared in the adoration of Alonso, indeed I've even been heard to whisper the words "vastly over-rated" when I thought no-one was listening.

Gareth Barry

And in Villa owner Randy Lerner, Liverpool are dealing with a man who would like an extra £18m in his club's bank account but is not actually desperate for it - making it much easier to back his manager's stance and make a very public point of principle.

Barry will make a point, with some justification, that he has given Villa 10 years of very solid service and should be allowed to leave and fulfil his wish to play Champions League football.

Sadly, even he will know that sentiment is an out of date currency in football.

Liverpool will get Barry, but they may have to end up a lot closer to Villa's asking price than they would like thanks to a few bold words from their manager and his unusual grasp of how players might be valued.

Benitez will then hope Barry is worth the trouble he has put his board through to get his main summer transfer target - he certainly needs him to forge a partnership with Steven Gerrard and push Liverpool a lot closer to the title than they were last season.

And once that is done, we will move on to the next saga. Maybe even back to Ronaldo.

Still, where would we be without a spot of handbags between clubs and managers before a deal reaches its inevitable conclusion?

We may shake our heads and question the sanity of football - but let's be honest we love it really.

I'm keen to get your views on this so get in touch.

Do you think Benitez has used the right tactics in doing this deal? Is Barry over-priced? Are Villa being too hard-nosed?


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