As the first ever Aston Villa roundtable gets under way, I caught up with William Cooper, Yoosof Farah, and Chris Rowlands to discuss an important issue.
After Liverpool relentlessly pursued Gareth Barry during the off-season, the question remains; Should Barry have gone when he had the chance? Especially considering his performances have dropped alarmingly since the move fell through.
Gareth Barry has been a loyal servant, turning in performance after performance and gradually getting better as the years have passed.
It was just two years ago, when Barry was getting frustrated at the lack of ambition at Villa Park. Then it all started happening. Doug Ellis made way for Randy Lerner and Martin O’Neill was brought in and hailed as the club's saviour.
Aston Villa are one of the teams—along with Everton, Man City, and Tottenham—with genuine ambitions of knocking Liverpool or Arsenal out of that top four and establishing themselves in the Champions League.
Along with Everton, Villa did a good job of pushing Liverpool for a while with the smallest squad in Premier League.
It only took a quick chat with O’Neill for Barry to realise he should stay and take Villa forward.
I’m not saying Villa are better than Liverpool—that would be disrespectful to England’s most successful club—but the things I have outlined are the things that Gareth Barry needed to consider before he made his mind up.
Despite seeing the level of his performances drop alarmingly thus far this season, staying at Villa was the best decision he could have made. Although O'Neill took the captaincy away from him, he still remains the star of the very young side. A young side that have been taking huge strides in the right direction.
He could have gone to Liverpool and risked sitting on the bench—and maybe slip out of the top four that he was moving into.
His England credentials are under no threat plying his trade for Birmingham’s elite, as he is always on show doing what he does best. He won his place in the national team's starting line-up through his performances for Villa, so why should he be forced to move on?
Liverpool's chase for Villa's former captain certainly unsettled the 27-year-old Barry. O'Neill decided he was to be replaced as club captain, instead giving the arm band to Martin Laursen.
Barry's form has not been as eye-catching so far this season, but his goal tally already looks good; five goals so far this season in all competitions. Last season Barry bagged nine goals, the highest tally of his career.
Barry was, and it appears still is, torn between a huge move to Liverpool and sticking with Villa. As January approaches, the same will he, won't he saga is sure to return. O'Neill appears to be of the position that, no man is bigger than the club, the change of captain was a statement from O'Neill—Villa will continue to progress with or without Barry.
All doesn't seem well for Barry behind the scenes, and if Barry believed Martin O'Neill would handle Villa's star man with kid gloves to prevent a fall-out, he was mistaken. O'Neill has asked Barry to change positions a few times this season, perhaps as a test of Barry's commitment to the club.
O'Neill's ego has been hurt by Liverpool's summer shenanigans. Clearly Liverpool are a bigger club than Villa, but O'Neill hates to hear it; and in some way has tried to force Barry to commit or leave. So far this season I don't see Barry as fully committed to Villa, and would be very surprised if Barry starts next season in claret and blue.
In Aston Villa's 0-0 draw with Portsmouth, Barry was asked, or told, to move from his customary midfield role to play at left-back. The England man has played left-back before for Villa, but isn't happy in that role. Barry said:
“I'm not a player who enjoys players running at me too much when I play in defence, I try to enjoy going forward and I hope the manager appreciates that.”
Barry added: “He (O'Neill) had a brief chat with me before the game and said it wasn't a long-term thing, but I know he changes his mind, so I'm going to have to take that with a pinch of salt.”
O'Neill's rebuke came with typical Clough-esque clarity: "I pick the side. Players are paid to play in whatever position I put them in. The explanation I give them should be good enough.”
Thankfully, Barry stayed at Villa, but it seems both player and manager are unsure whether that was the right decision.
Indeed Gareth Barry’s performances haven’t been up to the standard we’d all expect this season. Last season he was great; a fantastic player for both Aston Villa and England. This season, it is all rather different.
He is indeed suffering from a lack of form, and quite frankly, has not been delivering the goods. And with it rumoured that Gareth Barry is able to buy out his contract for just £2m next season, in my opinion Villa should’ve sold him in the summer.
As a whole host of names become linked with Barry—such as Arsenal, Tottenham and once again Liverpool—I think it is only a matter of time before the captain decides to leave Villa Park. In my view a move to Liverpool would suit him.
It would certainly be a good move for them; because Liverpool need a left-footed holding midfielder to partner Javier Mascherano, so they are able to play the formation they are so good at, 4-2-3-1, which happens to be Rafael Benitez’s preferred formation.
For Villa, selling Barry in the summer could’ve been the best option, as I’m sure any club would rather have their player left for £17m and not £2m.
Gareth Barry is in a similar position now as Steven Gerrard was a few seasons back when he nearly signed for Chelsea. Gerrard stayed, and Liverpool have kept up with the their big teams.
Aston Villa should be proud they managed to keep one of England's best players at their club and given a few months Barry will be a crowd favourite again. He definitely has the class—and class is permanent, form is temporary.
Had he joined Liverpool, he would have become discontent with trying to oust Xabi Alonso, Mascherano, and Gerrard from the squad; at Villa he is guaranteed a place in the starting XI.