Gareth Barry could yet stay at Aston Villa next season, Martin O'Neill warned yesterday when he threatened to set a deadline for Liverpool's dawdling pursuit of the England international. Villa are concerned that Rafael Benitez has since made Robbie Keane a priority in his summer acquisitions and that the club will make their decisive move for Barry only at the very end of August.
O'Neill was talking ahead of tomorrow's home game against Odense, of Denmark, in the Intertoto Cup in which the Aston Villa manager has said that he is seriously considering playing the 27-year-old who was barracked by his own fans in a friendly this week. O'Neill complained that he could not afford to be at the "behest" of Liverpool who are yet to come up with the £18m valuation that Villa have on Barry.
The indication from Tottenham is that they are close to an agreement with Liverpool on a deal of roughly the same value for Keane which, given that it is for a player one year older than Barry, will do nothing for the poor relations between Benitez and O'Neill. Keane's acquisition has become more important to Liverpool since the departure of Peter Crouch to Portsmouth. They have also been restricted by the failure to sell Xabi Alonso.
"It's been unfortunate," O'Neill said. "We don't know where we stand at this minute. Liverpool have not officially come back to us in any form of writing. It is a really awkward position here at this minute. At some stage or other there will have to be a timescale on it because we cannot just keep going on like this.
"We have got our own plans to make – and we shouldn't be at the behest of Liverpool football club. We have to pick up the pieces and I could go on for forever and a day talking about it. It doesn't really matter. We have to see what develops. As I say, we have not heard back from them in an official capacity."
Despite the abuse directed at Barry from the Villa fans at Tuesday's friendly against Walsall, the player will still be considered for the second leg against Odense tomorrow. With the score 2-2 from the first leg, O'Neill said that he would pick the player "if Gareth is in the right frame of mind". He added: "We will explore everything. He will be in contention. I have never not been impressed with him in two years as to his attitude on the football pitch. In fairness, the Intertoto gives us that chance to get into the Uefa Cup, which we set out to get into by one way or another, and Gareth was a major part of that last year."
O'Neill should seal the signing of Brad Friedel in the next few days when the deal to take Paul Robinson to Blackburn Rovers goes through, freeing the American to join Villa.
In the meantime, Benitez has signed the 19-year-old Paris Saint-Germain striker David Ngog for a fee that could rise to £4m depending on what he achieves at the club. Ngog came to the attention of English clubs when he scored twice against the England Under-19s last season. He scored once in 18 appearances for the French side but has a much better record at international level.
The teenager is the cousin of the former Rangers and Newcastle defender Jean-Alain Boumsong and is Benitez's fourth signing this summer after the Italian Andrea Dossena (Udinese), Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri (Palmeiras) and Swiss right-back Philipp Degen (Borussia Dortmund).
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