Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez today suggested Martin O’Neill should come to terms with the prospect of losing captain Gareth Barry.
Aston Villa manager O’Neill insisted he and American owner Randy Lerner will make a last-ditch attempt to keep Barry – a £10m target for the Reds – at at the club.
Benitez said in the Liverpool Echo: “If your captain wants to leave, it’s a problem, but that’s football.”
The Spaniard’s latest comments are bound to further anger O’Neill, who was furious last week at the manner of Liverpool’s approach for the England midfielder.
The Villa boss attacked Benitez when he was told the Spaniard had claimed to have had “prolonged discussions” with him about Barry, even though Benitez had never been quoted as saying that.
Liverpool’s manager has staunchly defended his actions, saying: “I think the right approach when you want to sign a player is to talk to the manager.
“I was talking to Martin O’Neill. I said we would like to sign Gareth Barry and asked what the situation was.
“He just said he needed to talk to the owner and I said okay. He will not have any problems with his supporters because he never said to me he wanted to sell Barry.
“We were also talking about (Liverpool goalkeeper) Scott Carson because they have the option to sign him.
“We were just talking about football so why he was so angry, I do not know.
“I have been very clear. The player had said before that he wanted to play Champions League football. We knew that and so tried to sign a good player. It is that simple.
“If your captain wants to leave, it is a problem, but that’s football.”
O’Neill and Lerner will make one last bid to keep hold of Barry in the next 48 hours.
O’Neill said: “I wouldn’t want to be saying how confident we are (of keeping Barry). It’s a different era we live in. We will see.
“All I know is he has never expressed one iota of unhappiness in my time at Villa Park. He might not have stayed that long had he been really unhappy before.
“We are going to be sitting down very shortly and discussing Gareth’s future. We won’t let this lie.
“I am going to see the chairman in the next couple of days and, with a bit of luck, the two of us together might be able to persuade him to stay.
“I say persuade him – but he still has two years left on his contract.”
O’Neill added: “Gareth is a demigod at Villa Park. He has that reputation and he is playing for England and he has not had to move to another club to do that.
“He has been particularly brilliant for us. We want to improve the team and our best chance of doing that is to keep our best players and adding some quality.”
Barry admitted he had been affected by all the speculation over his future but was outstanding yesterday’s 2-2 draw at West Ham which secured an Intertoto Cup spot for Villa.
O’Neill said: “Gareth might have been affected by the speculation last week but I thought he was back to his best at against West Ham.
“He did splendidly for us. You would not have thought he had anything else other than a win on his mind.”
O’Neill also criticised Benitez, suggesting Liverpool had leaked their initial bid for the player to the media.
But Benitez said: “We made an offer but I think we were straight. When you make an official offer, you do so by fax. Some people see the fax and you cannot control everything.
“The Birmingham press found out about the offer and it was not our fault. They were very clever and used that information.
“I was talking with Martin O’Neill 20 days before that and nobody knew. We were doing things properly. We are waiting now to see what happens next.”