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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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By ESPN Staff

Villa ready to fight to keep hold of Barry

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill has warned Liverpool he has not conceded defeat in his battle to keep Gareth Barry.

Barry is reported to be keen on a £10million move to Anfield after Reds boss Rafael Benitez made his interest in the England midfielder known.

But Villa are ready to pull out all the stops to persuade Barry his future remains in the midlands with club owner Randy Lerner set to play a role.

O'Neill said: 'We want to do our utmost to keep Gareth because he's so important to us and is back to his brilliant best.

'It's interesting and ironic that apparently there was an offer from an Italian club for Steven Gerrard, yet Liverpool were quick to remind everyone that he is under contract.

'Gareth has two years left on his contract and we want him to stay. The chairman will talk to him to show how much we value him.

'I can't understand why Gareth would want to leave. He's only 27 and has been brilliant for us.

'He has been selected for England and has played regularly for them because of his exploits with Villa.'

O'Neill added: 'I wouldn't want to be saying how confident we are (of keeping Barry). It's a different era we live in. We will see.

'All I know is he has never expressed one iota of unhappiness in my time at Villa Park. He might not have stayed that long had he been really unhappy before.

'We're going to be sitting down very shortly and discussing Gareth's future. We won't let this lie.

'I'm going to see the chairman in the next couple of days with a bit of luck and the two of us together might be able to persuade him to stay.

'I say persuade him - but he still has two years left on his contract.'

O'Neill added: 'Gareth is a demi-god at Villa Park. He has that reputation and he's playing for England and he hasn't had to move to another club to do that.

'He has been particularly brilliant for us. We want to improve the team and our best chance of doing that is to keep our best players and adding some quality.'

Barry admitted he had been affected by all the speculation over his future but was back to his best in the 2-2 draw at West Ham which secured an Intertoto Cup spot.

O'Neill said: 'Gareth might have been affected by the speculation last week but I thought he was back to his best yesterday against West Ham.

'He did splendidly for us. You wouldn't have thought he had anything else other than a win on his mind.'

Villa have already rejected one £10million bid from Liverpool for Barry and there has been a war of words between O'Neill and Rafael Benitez over the possible deal.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, though, today suggested Martin O'Neill should come to terms with the prospect of losing captain Gareth Barry.

Benitez said in the Liverpool Echo: 'If your captain wants to leave, it's a problem, but that's football.'

Liverpool's manager has staunchly defended his actions, saying: 'I think the right approach when you want to sign a player is to talk to the manager.

'I was talking to Martin O'Neill. I said we would like to sign Gareth Barry and asked what the situation was.

'He just said he needed to talk to the owner and I said okay. He will not have any problems with his supporters because he never said to me he wanted to sell Barry.

'We were also talking about (Liverpool goalkeeper) Scott Carson because they have the option to sign him. We were just talking about football so why he was so angry, I do not know.

'I have been very clear. The player had said before that he wanted to play Champions League football. We knew that and so tried to sign a good player. It is that simple.

'If your captain wants to leave, it is a problem, but that's football.

'We made an offer but I think we were straight. When you make an official offer, you do so by fax. Some people see the fax and you cannot control everything.

'The Birmingham press found out about the offer and it was not our fault. They were very clever and used that information.

'I was talking with Martin O'Neill 20 days before that and nobody knew. We were doing things properly. We are waiting now to see what happens next.'

Barry underlined his value to Villa by firing his side's second with a blistering finish in the 2-2 draw with West Ham at Upton Park.

But Dean Ashton struck a late equaliser to secure a share of the spoils the Hammers scarcely deserved.

Everton's victory over Newcastle denied Villa fifth place and a spot in the UEFA Cup, but they can still qualify for Europe via the Intertoto Cup.

O'Neill said: 'I'm very pleased with the team because we've taken big strides since last season.

'It's disappointing we've missed out on the UEFA Cup but with Everton beating Newcastle it doesn't seem so bad.

'We're in the Intertoto cup for definite now, which means we have to play 17 games in the middle of June!

'What it really means is that we have to be back a week earlier and be competitive sooner than expected because the ties are mid to late July.'