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By ESPN Staff

Barry awaits Liverpool's next move in saga

The cat and mouse game between Aston Villa and Liverpool over the signing of Gareth Barry appears set to continue as Rafael Benitez ponders a fifth bid for the England midfielder.

Reds boss Benitez was yesterday challenged by Villa counterpart Martin O'Neill to meet his asking price, after revealing he has long accepted his captain will leave the club.

Benitez has made four separate bids for the player, the latest reputed to be around £15million, but still £3million short of O'Neill's valuation.

The Villa boss told his club's official website: 'Gareth has made his position clear and after that it is straightforward.

'We have put a valuation on him and Liverpool value him differently at the moment. That is what the stalemate is, it is nothing else.

'Gareth has pointed out he wants to go and if Liverpool come up and meet our valuation, he will go. That has been the case since the beginning of June when Gareth said he definitely wanted to go to Liverpool.

'We put a valuation on him and we have based this valuation on a number of straightforward issues, not least that he is actually a top-quality player.'

The saga took a another bitter turn on Wednesday when O'Neill fined Barry two weeks' wages - around £80,000 - following a Sunday newspaper article in which the player severely criticised his manager's handling of the situation, claiming he had not made enough effort to keep him at the club.

Then Barry was told he was not welcome at pre-season training. That situation is unlikely to change until Villa have left for their training camp next week.

O'Neill said: 'When somebody says they want to leave a football club, there is not much else you can do about it.

'We had a meeting a few weeks before that, (owner) Randy (Lerner), myself, Gareth and his agent and he said that Champions League football was what he wanted to do.

'So this idea that we have not done anything in our power to keep him, I am afraid I totally and utterly disagree. Why on earth would we not want to keep our very top player at the football club when we're trying to improve?

'I think we have made steady improvement, we have gone from 16th to 11th to sixth in the league. This season we are going to try to push on from there. So the one thing you want to do is keep your best players.'

Barry's position at Villa is now clearly untenable, with no prospect of him ever pulling on the club shirt again and fans turning against him as the transfer battle has escalated into bitter recriminations.

Benitez, in the circumstances, would feel O'Neill will have to give way at some stage and he need not match the £18million asking price.

But if that is the Anfield strategy, it is going to be a long drawn-out affair and could go to the last day of the transfer window at the end of August.

That would not suit either club or the player and would cost Villa six weeks of wages for Barry that they could save by allowing the deal to go ahead.

Liverpool insist they are still talking to Villa and they have not made a final offer.

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