Sun, Aug 31, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Barry to take center stage against Reds

AFP , BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND

Manchester City’s Tal Ben Haim, left, challenges for the ball with Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry during their English Premier League game at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, on Aug. 17.

PHOTO: AFP

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez will lock horns with Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill today for the first time since the angry fallout over the future of Gareth Barry.

Had things gone to plan for Benitez, he would be taking a Liverpool team that included Barry to face O’Neill at Villa Park. Instead, after four months of bitter wrangling over the proposed transfer, the England midfielder will line up for Villa, having staged an about-turn and pledged his future to the midlands club for another season.

The public row between Benitez and O’Neill has simmered throughout the close season and the Liverpool manager admits the relationship now appears broken beyond repair. And while the Spaniard insists his focus now rests solely on the game and his side’s attempt to extend their impressive start to the season, there is no doubt the Barry affair provides an intriguing backdrop to the clash.

“Do I have a good relationship with Martin O’Neill? I don’t think so,” Benitez said. “But of course, I will shake his hand, I am a calm man and I do not have any problems with him about that. I had a good relationship with Martin O’Neill before this summer and I was surprised at what has been said, but I insist that I have not spoken to him since April. But I do not believe there will be any problem shaking hands, we can do it.”

Barry, who had declared his desire to join Liverpool and compete in the Champions League, will undoubtedly find himself the center of attention during the game. The Villa captain was booed by his own fans during the club’s pre-season friendlies, but insists there is no risk of him experiencing any split loyalties.

“I am 100 percent for Villa,” Barry said. “That’s all I’ll be doing. That won’t be strange at all.”

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