Thursday, February 19, 2009

Barry is best: Petrov

Gareth Barry, pivotal to the make-up of Martin O'Neill's high-flying Aston Villa side, is proving to hold significant sway over events away from the football field.

Team-mates Stiliyan Petrov and Gabby Agbonlahor have both this week insisted their long term futures at the West Midlands club hang on whether Barry remains in claret and blue for a possible tilt at the Champions League next season.

Petrov has even made it clear he places a greater importance on the club keeping their best players than discussing his own contract extension ahead of a schedule which sees Villa face fourth-placed Chelsea and a tricky second leg Uefa Cup tie in Moscow in the space of the next week.

Despite a fluent display, Villa only managed to draw 1-1 in the first leg on Wednesday night.

The former Bulgaria national team captain, who rubbished suggestions he's on the brink of agreeing a new £45,000-a-week deal, has blossomed in Villa's midfield this season - after an indifferent beginning to his Premiership career when he rejoined O'Neill from Celtic in 2006.

But Petrov, 29, freely admits the peaks of his own individual form would have been far tougher to scale without Barry alongside him in Villa's engine room.

Petrov considers his midfield partner England's premier international player and even claimed the silky left-sided star has become the first name on manager Fabio Capello's team sheet.

However, the tug-of-war transfer saga between Villa and Liverpool last summer means nothing is now certain for Barry's team-mates when it comes to deciding their own futures.

What is certain, though, is that Barry remaining at Villa Park would have a major influence on which of O'Neill's other leading lights might put pen to paper.

"He mentioned that if Villa show they can fight for the Champions League there would be no point moving. So far we've been showing that," explained Petrov, whose current deal expires in 18 months time.

"We hope he will stay because he's one of the best midfielders in the country and if you have him here you do your best to keep him.

"He's one of the main men for Capello. Even with players like (Frank) Lampard and (Steven) Gerrard - very established names in the national team - I think Gareth is now the first name on the team sheet for Capello because of the way he's been playing and the character he is.

"We try to make it hard for him to choose what he wants to do. We try to show we can challenge the big teams and give him what he wants.

"We will make the decision harder for him if we can stay in the top four. It's up to us.

"The manager is trying to show everybody that he wants to build something big here. And one of the key things is keeping Gareth because he's the most important player at this club.

"If you keep Gareth, the message is that we're aiming for something big next year."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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