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Four-goal Faris dreams of AFC Cup final

By ESPN Staff

O'Neill desperate to keep hold of skipper Barry

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill will pull out all the stops to keep hold of his leading assets including in-demand skipper Gareth Barry.

O'Neill is prepared to consider offering bumper pay rises to the likes of Barry, a target for Liverpool and Chelsea, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor as a reward for their contributions this season.

Barry is believed to be on just over £40,000 a week and would receive considerably more if he made the move to Anfield or Stamford Bridge.

O'Neill is 'desperate' to hold on to Barry and his other star performers as Villa look to build on a season of high promise which sees them challenging strongly for a UEFA Cup spot.

The former Celtic boss said: 'As manager of the club I will sit down with the chairman (Randy Lerner) and we are going to do our best to keep hold of the players.

'Gareth Barry obviously comes into that category. He is our captain, one of our top players and in the England side on merit after an outstanding season.

'We're in the business of professional football, trying to achieve as much as we possibly can, and knowing your competitors are putting high stakes on things.

'If players are doing well, and are deserving of new contracts or renegotiated deals, I have not got a problem with that.

'If someone is worth something here, and you reward him by putting him above or alongside his peers, I have also not got a problem with that.'

Barry, who has two years left of his current deal, concedes he has been well paid during his decade at Villa and he will qualify for a testimonial match this summer.

But winning trophies and not financial gain is the main concern for the 27-year-old who wants to sit down with O'Neill and see what his transfer plans are for the next campaign.

O'Neill, meanwhile, is set to hold talks with representatives of full-back Wilfred Bouma regarding a new contract.

Villa are ready to take up a 12-month option on Bouma's contract but O'Neill would like the Dutch international to sign a longer deal.

The Irishman said: 'I have spoken to Bouma's agent and am hoping to meet him this week. There are no problems and we are definitely going to meet up.'

Bouma has been one of Villa's most improved players under O'Neill after a difficult start to his career with the midlands club. • O'Neill has insisted midfielder Shaun Maloney is still part of his plans despite being starved of any first-team involvement for the past three games.

He said: 'Shaun Maloney has still got a part to play, absolutely no question.

'What's happened is that we've changed it around a little in the past two or three games so we've got a bit more strength in the middle of the park.

'But Shaun can play a number of positions and he's basically just had a rest for the past two or three weeks.'

Petrov believes Villa's ability to score goals from all over the pitch gives them a vital edge in the battle for a top-five finish.

Strikers John Carew (12) and Gabriel Agbonlahor (10) top the scoring charts but there have also been significant contributions from midfielders Gareth Barry (eight) and Ashley Young (seven) plus central defender Martin Laursen (six).

Petrov said: 'We've started to score goals all over the park - defenders, midfielders and the front players - and that's great in any team.

'Teams are now aware we can create chances and be dangerous from lots of different positions.'