Thursday, July 31, 2008

Liverpool Finally Agree £19m Deal For Gareth Barry Despite Villa's 'Staying' Statement

Gareth Barry's transfer to Liverpool finally looks like going through after the Anfield club came up with the money to secure his move from Aston Villa.

The longest-running saga of the summer has reached a confusing climax after an earlier statement that he was staying at Villa Park.

Sportsmail understands that the mix-up was due to a deadline being missed by 20 minutes, and the transfer will finally be concluded on Thursday.

Villa will receive a £17.5million fee plus right back Steve Finnan in exchange for a midfielder who will fulfil his wish to play in the Champions League this season after all.

To find the money, Liverpool needed to provide the bank with a guarantee that funds to cover the move will be raised during the remainder of the close season.

The transfer has dragged on since May when Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez made it clear that Barry was his top priority.

Villa manager Martin O'Neill was angry with him for making details of his interest public, and a war of words raged between them for much of the early summer.

Liverpool made four separate bids to sign Barry but none of them matched O'Neill's valuation of the player.

Barry's outburst against O'Neill in a Sunday newspaper then appeared to signal the end of any chance of him remaining at Villa.

He accused the manager of finding time to be a pundit at Euro 2008 but not to speak to him about his future and was disciplined and told to stay away from the club's training ground.

Then Barry was booed by Villa fans at a pre-season friendly at Walsall last week, but that mood had mellowed when he appeared as a substitute in Saturday's InterToto Cup tie with Odense.

Matters finally reached a head on Monday when O'Neill tried to force the Merseysiders into a corner by setting a deadline. That was passed at 5pm on Wednesday when Villa had still not received confirmation from Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry that funds were in place.

Villa then put out a statement on their website confirming that Barry would be staying. It read: 'This evening, Aston Villa can announce that Gareth Barry will be staying with the club following the interest from Liverpool over recent months.

'During discussions in the past few days, a final deadline to conclude this episode was set that all parties were aware of and agreed to. This deadline has now passed and so Gareth will remain with Villa.'

However, it soon transpired that the two clubs were still talking over the move. Barry had been due to play in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Notts County on Thursday - but his name was subsequently withdrawn.

And it also appears that the England midfielder has already committed himself to renting a house in Cheshire.

The transfer has dragged on but now Benitez has to act quickly by offloading players to keep Liverpool's part of the bargain with financiers.

Those destined for the exit door include Andriy Voronin, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Jermaine Pennant.

Following David Bentley's defection to Spurs, Pennant will probably be the first to leave as Blackburn manager Paul Ince spends some of the transfer money he has received.

Robbie Keane kicked off his Liverpool career against Villarreal in Spain, two days after completing his £19m move from Tottenham. The Republic of Ireland captain started up front alongside 19-year-old David Ngog, who cost £1.5m from Paris Saint-Germain.

Villarreal 0 - 0 LiverpooL

Robbie Keane missed the best chance of the night on his Liverpool debut, just 24 hours after his £20million move to Anfield.

Keane played the first half of the friendly in Castellon, Spain, where his appearance was upstaged by the heroes' reception for the members of the Euro 2008 winners.

In the end Liverpool maintained their unbeaten record in pre-season matches, aware that their chances of adding Gareth Barry to their ranks seem to be over.

Aston Villa's decision to end the negotiations over Barry earlier in the day was met with a strict 'no comment' from Liverpool but still dominated the pre-match discussions. Whether that is the end of the matter only time will tell.

The game was held up for several minutes as seven of Spain's victorious Euro 2008 side received ovations and presentations.

Four of those players were from Liverpool, Jose Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. Villarreal had Marcos Senna, Santi Cazorla and Joan Capdevila.

All seven were given small yellow submarine toys to mark the occasion, due to Villarreal's nickname.

Keane made his debut up front alongside another new boy, French teenager David Ngog, and both could have got their names on the scoresheet in the first period.

First, Keane was set up by fine work from Steven Gerrard - back following injury - and Yossi Benayoun. The new £20million man beat two players but lifted his shot over the bar.

Ngog, signed from Paris Saint Germain, saw a side-footed effort saved by Diego Lopez after Benayoun's pass.

Lopez had saved well from a Gerrard curler, but Villarreal had their moments.

The Spanish league runners-up forced Diego Cavalieri into good saves from Cani, ex-Arsenal man Robert Pires and Angel before Ariel Ibagaza hit a post with Joseba Llorente's follow-up deflected over by Stephen Darby.

Liverpool made nine changes at the break, including two teenagers on up front, the excellent Spanish youngster Daniel Pacheco and Hungarian striker Krisztian Nemeth, the reserves' top scorer last term.

Keane and Gerrard were among those taken off, leaving Benitez with a very youthful side including Jay Spearing and Emiliano Insua against Villarreal's experience.

Liverpool were under a lot more pressure in the second period, but Pacheco should have scored when put clear, only to drag his shot wide. Then Nemeth fired over from 20-yards.

With 20 minutes left Torres, Arbeloa and Alonso finally appeared - to a massive ovation from the home support.

Then with 10 minutes left, former Villarreal goalkeeper Reina came on for a cameo appearance, having rushed to the Madrigal stadium after being at the birth of his second child.

He too was given the hero treatment, the game now little more than an exhibition.

Rafa's Sneaky Assuncao Move Revealed

Reports from Spain claim Liverpool made a sneaky bid to steal Paulo Assuncao from Atletico Madrid.

According to El Mundo Deportivo, Rafael Benitez attempted to lure Assuncao to Anfield earlier this month after the Brazilian midfielder broke his contract with Porto to sign for Atleti.

It has been reported that Benitez approached los Colchoneres immediately after the 28-year-old's arrival and, understandably, had his advances rejected outright.

However, it is possible the Reds boss made contact with the player or his representatives directly between the time Assuncao left Estadio Dragao and the time he signed on at the Vicente Calderon.

Benitez has been in the market for a central midfielder all summer. His designs on Gareth Barry - which appear to have been dashed in the last 24 hours - are well documented, and Xabi Alonso's future on Merseyside remains uncertain.

Furthermore, Liverpool will be without both Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva for the start of the season, as the pair will represent Argentina and Brazil respectively at the upcoming Olympic Games.

Hence, Benitez may have earmarked Assuncao as ideal cover in the middle of the park, given his considerable experience and his relative lack of expense.

But the Spanish tactician will have to seek out other options now, and may simply choose to put faith in youngsters such as Damien Plessis, who impressed during his few senior outings last term.

Blackburn Boss Ince Eyes £6m Liverpool Winger Pennant As He Looks To Start Spending Bentley Windfall

Paul Ince will dip into the £15million which was received from for David Bentley to try to complete a deal for Jermaine Pennant.

The Rovers boss faces late competition for the £6m-rated winger from Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, whose chances of landing Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea look slim.

Blackburn still hope to beat him to a £5m deal, knowing Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez would prefer to sell Pennant, unspectacular in two years at Anfield since a £6.7m move from Birmingham, rather than lose versatile Yossi Benayoun to £6m bidders Manchester City or West Ham.

Blackburn will owe about £6.5m of the Bentley cash to Arsenal, who have a sell-on clause for the England player they let go for £1.5m three years ago.

Blackburn are also ready to rival Fulham in the pursuit of Torino's 28-year-old Australia midfielder Vince Grella. A defensive midfielder is a priority for Ince and the combative Grella fits the bill.

Rovers have already confirmed interest in Grella's fellow Australian, Palermo midfielder Mark Bresciano.

They want to reunite the international team-mates at Ewood Park and Torino are willing to sell Grella, who has 35 caps, for around £3.5m.

Rovers have ruled out a move for £2m-rated midfielder Keith Andrews from Ince's former club, MK Dons.

Rafa Won't Comment On Barry Rejection

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has so far refused to make any public comment on their now confirmed failure to prise Gareth Barry away from Aston Villa.

The Reds had been chasing the Villa the skipper all summer, but in the end allegedly had a last-ditch attempt to sign the England midfielder thwarted by Villa, who yesterday formally announced that their skipper will not be going anywhere this summer.

"I would prefer to concentrate on the game and my squad," said Benitez when pressed on the Barry saga after the 0-0 friendly draw at Villarreal on Wednesday night.

"I was really pleased with the situation on the pitch tonight," he added.

"Robbie Keane did well, he had every chance to score but could not manage a goal."

After another reporter again brought up the Barry matter, Benitez refused to be drawn out.

"I think we have quality in the squad and I would prefer to concentrate on the game," he said.

"I feel the quality is improving, it is better than last season, and this match has been of benefit to the squad and for me to see several young players in action."