Friday, May 2, 2008

Liverpool Wants Gareth Barry--Why?

Numerous reports today have confirmed what has basically been common knowledge over the past couple of weeks: Liverpool is interested in signing Aston Villa's captain, Gareth Barry. Villa manager Martin O'Neill came out today criticizing Liverpool for publicizing this interest; a part exchange offer has been made for sure, with Peter Crouch, John Arne Riise, and/or even possibly Scott Carson as the likely candidates to go the other way. O'Neill, for his part, refused to confirm specifically what the offer entailed, but did obviously say that one was on the table.

My question? Why does Liverpool want Barry?

Make no mistake, this isn't meant to slam or to disparage Barry whatsoever. He's a terrific player and is Villa's heart and soul. He is good friends with Liverpool's captain, Steven Gerrard, from their days breaking into the England squad at a young age. He is very versatile, capable of playing left back and on the left side of midfield, although he is more comfortable right in the center of the park where he's starred for Villa this year. He's approaching his 400th career appearance for the club and has already qualified for a testimonial recognizing a decade spent at Villa Park. At 27 years old, Barry is in the prime of his career.

No, Gareth Barry has had an outstanding season and I can see why a big club would be interested in him.

Not Liverpool, though. Rafa Benitez's team has a plethora of center midfielders in Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Lucas, Xabi Alonso (who may leave in the summer), the young Damien Plessis, and even Yossi Benayoun, who is natural in the middle but has been used on the wing by Benitez this season.

Would Barry play at Liverpool? He's a very, very good player, but this move seems like Steve Sidwell to Chelsea last summer all over again. If Alonso doesn't go, Barry would probably be no better than the fourth choice in the center and be rotated constantly. He doesn't need that in his prime; he needs to be starting every game and wearing Villa's armband for years to come. Moving to Liverpool may hamstring his recently reignited England career under Fabio Capello, who has made it clear that if you don't play regularly for your club, you won't be playing for the Three Lions.

Liverpool should be interested in a player from Aston Villa, but Gareth Barry isn't the one, and Barry shouldn't want to go to Liverpool either.

So, who do I think Liverpool should go after?

None other than my man Ashley Young, who is probably my favorite player in the league. He can play on both wings, though he's mostly played on the left this season before being given a free role recently by O'Neill. He is a great set-piece taker, arguably better than Gerrard. He has great pace and technical ability and at 22, is still developing. He's got seven goals and 17 assists this season and was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Think about it, it makes sense. Where are Liverpool's holes? At the full-back position, of course, but really on the wings. Sure, Ryan Babel is fine on the left, but he's more of a striker. Jermaine Pennant is rubbish, Dirk Kuyt has very little natural ability even though he's a workhorse, Benayoun isn't dynamic enough to beat anyone on the flank and cause much trouble, and Harry Kewell will be leaving.

Everything runs through Alonso, Mascherano, and Gerrard for Liverpool, and then up through the center to Torres. They're an extremely one-dimensional team and signing Barry would just reinforce that notion. Young, on the other hand, would give them a real threat on the left side and would allow Babel to move to the right, which would be helpful for a guy who's predominantly right-footed anyway. I guarantee you that would be no faster combination of flank players in the Premiership than Babel and Young, and they would be absolutely deadly out wide. Young would walk straight into that starting XI and provide something for Liverpool that they haven't had in recent seasons -- a true winger.

With that said, I just don't see any way that O'Neill would let Ashley Young leave right now after the season he's had. I think his performance this year has driven his price up in the neighborhood of 20 million pounds, and that's no joke. Liverpool probably doesn't have that type of money to spend, although he is worth it, and Villa would be reluctant to let him walk for any less than that. Barry would be a cheaper alternative, but I don't see why Liverpool believe they need another center midfielder.

In the end, I believe Barry will remain at Villa and I can't see Young going anywhere, although both of them certainly have the ability to play for a "Big Four" club. Villa is a club on the rise and, mark my words, WILL be challenging for fourth place in the Premiership next season if Barry does stay. If you're a Liverpool fan, you have to hope your club goes after some wide players, both in the back and on the wing, and you certainly don't need another guy clogging up the middle.

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