The news that Martin O’Neill has fined Gareth Barry £84,000 and banned him from pre season training for his outburst in the press over the weekend is significant. To all intents and purposes it should signal the end of the road for Barry at Villa and mean that he will be wearing a different shirt at the start of the season. In the absence of other bids it seems it will be a Liverpool one.
There is a school of argument that says if a player expresses a desire not to play for his club, as Barry did over the weekend, then he should be shown the exit door as quickly as possible. Once Barry did this an inevitable chain of events was set in motion. Martin O’Neill, not wishing to see his authority undermined, punished Barry thus widening the rift between player and club to point where it is unlikely to be closed. Of course Villa are perfectly entitled to hold out for their £18m asking price, which as I write is £3m short of Liverpool’s latest offer, however they are playing a dangerous game.
Firstly I would suggest that only Villa and their fans think £18m is reasonable for a 27 year old midfielder with limited international experience. If they were to put aside their understandable annoyance caused by us moving in on their best player and looked at the deal objectively then surely they would agree that the price is too high? It is all very well Martin O’Neill indignantly stomping his feet, criticising us over this and speaking in the way he did yesterday, however, as the summer has gone on and Barry’s take on the situation has emerged, his comments begin to hold less and less water.
Although he forced O’Neill’s hand last week, one has to have some sympathy for Barry. He has been at Villa for eleven years, a massive time for a player to spend at one club by today’s’ standards, so can anyone really question his loyalty? Given Villa’s lack of success in this period can one really object to him, at 27 years old, wanting to take up a fresh opportunity with a so called “bigger club” and the supposedly more competitive Champions League arena. In addition the move would presumably enhance his prospects with the England team?
Deny Barry this and he is hardly gong to say “oh well, never mind, can’t helped” and knuckle down and carry on playing with Villa. He is surely going to be resentful that he has been prevented from moving on, particularly after the loyalty he has shown? The issue of not having Barry’s commitment is one thing but Villa should also consider that he is an experienced, senior player and his continued presence at the club could see his disquiet transfer itself to rest of the team?
Although Aston Villa fans won’t welcome it, I have some sympathy for them. They must feel annoyed that having finished sixth last season, and looking to push on or at least consolidate, they look like, at his crucial time, being deprived of one of the their key players. True after everything that has gone on they won’t be particularly enamoured with their Captain should he stay but if he does go will they begin to doubt the ambitions of the club? It’s a difficult one to reconcile?
One can, to a degree, even understand O’Neill’s outpourings because of this. However, he is an intelligent man and must, deep down, realise that this is the Premiership “food chain”, the law of the jungle. Furthermore with the same four big beasts continually drinking at the Champions league waterhole it doesn’t look like changing, in fact the gap is widening.
Of course one can never ever rule out the possibility that we might be gullible enough to meet Villa’s full valuation but ideally it should be case of what’s it to be for O’Neill? £15m in the bank to spend on new players or dig his heels in? If he goes for the latter option and we go elsewhere he will surely find himself with greater problems than he has now? I guess the question he has to ask is this – is the extra £3m worth the gamble or does he “fold” and avoid giving himself, and his club, an almighty headache?