Lerner opens contract talks with Villa star Barry
Randy Lerner is optimistic Gareth Barry will remain at Aston Villa after revealing a new contract has been discussed with the England midfielder.
But Villa's American multi-millionaire owner is also prepared to wind down Barry's current deal, which has another 12 months to run, even though it would cost the club between £10-£12million in transfer revenue.
Barry almost quit Villa last summer to join Liverpool before the deal collapsed after the Reds failed to meet the £18million asking price.
Lerner recognises the importance of Barry to Villa which is why he would be prepared for him to stay for another season and then walk away for nothing as a free agent.
Lerner said: "We have discussed a new contract with Gareth. I would give Barry the highest ranking possible. He is the best. He is a gentleman, a great player, a pleasure to be around, a leader, a great captain.
"I don't think anyone could do better than Gareth on any level. Am I optimistic Gareth will stay? Yes, I am optimistic. It is my nature.
"He is currently really speaking to Martin O'Neill and that is the natural process. They will get into it and it will all get handled in the normal ways."
Lerner added: "Am I happy for him to wind down his current contract? That's his decision. If it means he is staying another year, I am absolutely happy.
"Even though Villa would lose £10-£12 million? Yes, absolutely. You are talking about a player who is an integral part of your potential success.
"That is in terms of playing more games to winning competitions etc. That is similarly lucrative (to a transfer fee this summer) when you think about what you can achieve with a player like that.
"It is not like you forego the proceeds and you are getting nothing back.
"You are keeping him on the team, the team continues to compete and you are rewarded with successful results. There is more to do it than foregoing money."
Lerner does not believe Barry's departure would send out a pessimistic signal in terms of attracting other top players.
Lerner said: "I don't think given the circumstances that it would send out a bad signal if Gareth left knowing what has happened, how long he has been with the club, and that he has articulated his ambitions at different times.
"If clubs come in for Gabby and Ashley, will we sell them? No. There is no way right now I could imagine that happening."
Lerner is also confident that O'Neill will remain in charge at Villa for the forseeable future even though he continues to operate on a 12 month rolling contract.
Barry is giving little indication to his team-mates of his plans for the future,.
Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor said: "Everyone knows about Gareth, but it's football and he'll do what he feels it's right to do.
"He doesn't tell us anything. It's his business. It would be great to keep him and it would be great to keep all our quality players but it never happens like that, does it?
"We'll wait and see. I'm quite close to him but he doesn't really talk about what's going to happen to him."