Aston Villa’s desire to seal a Champions League spot for next season with a top-four finish this has taken on even greater urgency after Stiliyan Petrov said yesterday that his future at the club depended largely on whether Gareth Barry stays at Villa Park. Barry has already suggested that he will leave should Martin O’Neill’s side fail to qualify for Europe’s leading club competition.
O’Neill recognises that persuading Petrov to sign a new contract is his “top priority” now the January transfer window has closed. The Bulgarian has been a key performer for Villa this season and has only 17 months remaining of his four-year deal following his £6m move from Celtic in the summer of 2006. Petrov says his own contract negotiations are on hold while Villa fight on two fronts – the league and the Uefa Cup, in which they host CSKA Moscow tonight in the first leg of a last-32 tie.
Petrov admits, though, that Barry’s plans – he came close to moving to Liverpool last summer – will have a bearing on what lies ahead for him in the long term. The England player’s contract also expires in the summer of 2010.
“The manager will try to show everybody that he wants to build something big here and one of the things is to keep Gareth Barry because he is maybe the most important player at the club,” Petrov said.
“If we keep Gareth it will also send out a message to all of the players, a big message that we are in for something big here next year. We all hope he is going to stay because he is one of the best midfielders in the country and you try your best to keep him if you want to achieve something.”
On the subject of his contract, he added: “There have been no talks – not at all. My job now is to play football. If the club is interested to offer me a new contract, they will contact my agent and speak about that.
“It is not a priority. There are other priorities at the moment – for the club to finish in the top four of the Premier League and go as far as we can in the Uefa Cup. That is the most important thing.”
Petrov rejects the theory that Villa have an advantage as CSKA have not played a competitive game since 4 December because of the winter break in Russia. But he acknowledges that it is a crucial 72 hours for the club, with Villa hosting Chelsea in a meeting of third versus fourth in the Premier League on Saturday which will help define their season and therefore Barry’s future.
Villa will be looking to bounce back after going out of the FA Cup 3-1 at Everton on Sunday. “We were really disappointed with the way we played against Everton,” Petrov said. “We were on the back foot and not as sharp as we normally are. They deserved to win. It is a very big week for us with two more very important games coming up. People might think it is easy against CSKA because their season hasn’t started. But we already know about them from looking at DVDs and they look a very strong team, with pace and players who can hurt you.
“They will have been aware when the draw was made of how good we are and we also have players who can hurt them. They will want to stay in this competition and will be ready.”
Barry will return after being ruled out of the defeat at Goodison Park through suspension, but fellow midfielder Steve Sidwell is banned after a red card against Hamburg.