Barry set for Liverpool after O'Neill puts end to resistance

Liverpool will secure Gareth Barry's signature this week, following the concession of defeat by the Aston Villa manager, Martin O'Neill, in his summer-long battle to persuade the midfielder to stay.

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, is keen to wrap up an £18m cash deal – the valuation Villa have always placed on the player – as quickly as possible. He may have the England international at his disposal within 72 hours, provided there are no hitches with the cash advance which Liverpool's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are understood to have agreed to make.

Benitez had been told that he had to sell to buy and the chances of securing Barry's services seemed to have receded with the £19m purchase of the striker Robbie Keane from Tottenham Hotspur last week. But Hicks and Gillett are understood to have provided the £18m needed to buy Barry ahead of possible further sales, and may be willing to write off any shortfall remaining after the transfer window closes.

Liverpool's major hope of helping to recoup the full sum receded further yesterday, however, when the Juventus manager, Claudio Ranieri, said after a 3-0 defeat to Hamburg in London that he was no longer considering a move for Xabi Alonso. The Italian club had never tabled a firm offer for the Spain midfielder.

Benitez can still hope that Jermaine Pennant will bring in £4m, should Blackburn Rovers develop their known interest in the winger. Andrei Voronin could bring in £6m and Steve Finnan £2m. Alvaro Arbeloa's departure has also been anticipated, though Benitez last week dismissed suggestions that the Spaniard might be unhappy at the club.

Liverpool remained hopeful of signing Barry after the drama of last Wednesday, when Villa made an unexpected declaration that the England player was to stay, minutes after the conclusion of a deadline they had imposed. Liverpool made no progress on the matter on Friday but Barry had actually persuaded O'Neill to give up on his services on Thursday morning. O'Neill, who has never been short of public proclamations on the issue, revealed as much after Villa's 1-1 draw at Reading in a friendly on Saturday.

O'Neill said that Barry and his agent, Alex Black, had felt that Liverpool could still do the deal. The Villa manager had hoped a £60,000-a-week offer might tempt the midfielder to stay.

"I was obviously very disappointed that that was still part of the scenario going forward," O'Neill said. "I gave it some thought and realised that at the end of it all there was little point in pretending. Gareth would want to join Liverpool and therefore there would be no deadline.

"I have agreed with Gareth now that Liverpool have got all the time in the world if they want to raise the money. That's the case. That's it. The ball is firmly in Liverpool's court, that's fine, not a problem."

For a manager who has railed against Liverpool and Benitez all summer, such a change of course and tone is surprising. But O'Neill can show that his club have earned every penny they were demanding for Barry, with a considerable amount payable immediately. It is understood Liverpool have accepted Villa's demand that the £18m be delivered in two instalments.

At Liverpool, Hicks' role in the move provides the biggest boost to his reputation since he arrived at the club in February 2007. Though the biggest concern at Anfield has always been the two American owners' capacity to get a new stadium built, two top-bracket signings and Saturday's 4-0 friendly win at Rangers provide a sense at last that the club is moving forward.


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