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By ESPN Staff

Aston Villa begin discussions to keep Barry

Aston Villa have opened discussions with Gareth Barry in the hope of persuading the England midfielder to stay at the club.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill has got involved in a war of words with Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez over Barry after the Anfield club submitted a £10million bid for the player.

Liverpool hope to tempt Barry to leave Villa Park with the offer of Champions League football but O'Neill is 'hopeful' he and club owner Randy Lerner can impress him enough to make him stay.

Villa have not said whether their talks have led to a new contract offer but add that he has now been given time to consider his options.

O'Neill told the club's official website: 'We've spoken to Gareth and our situation remains the same - that everyone at Aston Villa Football Club wishes very strongly that Gareth will stay.

'He still has two years of his contract to run and Liverpool have put in an offer that, well, it's almost debatable whether it is an offer.

'Things are very much up in the air and the main aim for the chairman and myself is to try and keep him at the football club. That's what we're trying to do.

'You can make people see out their contracts but in essence we would want a pretty amicable solution to all of this and we're still hopeful that things can be resolved in favour of Aston Villa.'

O'Neill has made clear his indignation at the Liverpool offer, both in its timing and its valuation of the player.

He has also expressed his anger at Benitez after details were made public.

O'Neill steered Villa to sixth in the Barclays Premier League this season and hopes further proof of progress will please Barry, whom he sees as playing a key role.

The former Celtic boss added: 'I understand a career only spans a certain amount of time and you want to get as much as you can out of that.

'But Gareth has played for England because he plays regularly for Aston Villa and his England place is not in jeopardy because he's playing for Aston Villa at the moment - frankly (Fabio) Capello does not need to see him playing in a Champions League game to be convinced.

'Of course anything can change at the drop of a hat and I'm never overly confident but what I would say to the fans is that we're doing our utmost and we'll continue to do so. We want to show Gareth that we mean business.

'The promise here is very, very obvious. We've gone from 16th to 11th to sixth. We've got the smallest squad in the business and that's something we're desperately trying to improve.

'We don't really want to be starting off by losing our best players. The only way for us to make progress is by doing our utmost to keep him.'