O'Neill backs Barry decision
Martin O'Neill feels Gareth Barry earned the chance to seek a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
By Ben Collins
Last Updated: 30/04/10 2:25pm
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill feels former skipper Gareth Barry earned the chance to seek a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
Barry made a £12million move to Manchester City last summer after making over 400 appearances in 12 years at Villa Park.
The England international, 29, will renew acquaintances with his former club at Eastlands on Saturday, with the two sides both vying for the final Champions League berth.
Barry came under criticism from some Villa fans for walking out on the club for the big-spending Blues but O'Neill leapt to his defence, saying he deserved a move 12 months after a proposed deal with Liverpool fell through.
"I have the utmost regard for Gareth," said the Villa boss. "He put in a lot of years here.
"If anyone had earned the right to try to look after his future in the last couple of years, it was Gareth.
"I would also say it was great for him playing here the last couple of years. We'd like to think we helped him along the way. He got to play in his favourite midfield role all the time and he was able to forge on and end up playing for England on a regular basis.
"From that viewpoint, it worked out for all of us. He has chosen to go to Manchester City and good luck to him.
"We got £12million for a player with one year left of his contract and had to accept, the minute he walked out of the door, that we had to do something about it and try to use the money to get someone else in. So far the team has responded."
Barry is battling to overcome an hamstring injury to be fit for Saturday's game, which is crucial to both clubs' hopes of qualifying for the Champions League for a first time.
Villa have also reached the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup semi-finals this season, and victory in their last two Premier League games with City and Blackburn could be enough for them to snatch a top-four finish.
"Could this be Villa's best chance of the top four?" asked O'Neill.
"I've never looked at it from that viewpoint. I've just felt that it has been hard all year round.
"But, the way it's fallen, the way we've hung in there, I actually think our performances this season, and what we've done in the cups, means we deserve this two-game crack at it.
"To give ourselves a chance we need to put maximum points on the board and that won't be easy, particularly under this sort of pressure.
"You would expect Tottenham to beat Bolton at White Hart Lane and we could win our two games and it would still not be in our hands. But it's worth battling for."
City have the financial muscle to launch another spending spree this summer and O'Neill excepts them to go from strength to strength, making it even tougher for Villa to break into the top four next season.
"Will City be a major force next season? Undoubtedly," he said. "That would be relatively sound judgment from most people on what is going to happen.
"Manchester City, in this era of recessionary times, can push on. They have made it known they will do that and will go for really quality players and will not be looking to go for players just to fill squads but the very best quality.
"They have their own ambitions and in time I think they will realise those ambitions. Things are just not going to happen overnight but you accept, when they buy the quality they have, that might tell you about their ambition.
"They are driving on from that and they are going to push on and they will definitely be a major force."