Gareth Barry earned move to Manchester City, says Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill

By Sportsmail Reporter

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill admits former skipper Gareth Barry 'earned the right to decide his future' ahead of Saturday's vital Barclays Premier League clash with Manchester City at Eastlands.  

Barry clocked up more than 400 games in 12 years at Villa before deciding to move to Eastlands last summer after his dreams of joining Liverpool were shattered 12 months earlier.  

Now the England midfielder, providing he recovers from a hamstring injury, will do battle with his former colleagues as the race for a Champions League spot gathers momentum. 

City slicker: Gareth Barry moved to Eastlands in the summer for £12million

City slicker: Gareth Barry moved to Eastlands in the summer for £12million

O'Neill said: 'I have the utmost regard for Gareth. He put in a lot of years here. If anyone had earned the right to try and look after his future in the last couple of years, it was Gareth.  

'I would also say it was great for him playing here the last couple of years. We'd like to think we helped him along the way in the last couple of years. 

Old Villain: Barry spent 12 season at Villa Park

Old Villain: Barry spent 12 season at Villa Park

'He got to play in his favourite midfield role all the time and he was able to forge on and end up playing for England on a regular basis.  'From that viewpoint, it worked out for all of us. He has chosen to go to Manchester City and good luck to him.  

'We got £12million for a player with one year left of his contract and had to accept, the minute he walked out of the door, that we had to do something about it and to try and use the money to get someone else in.'So far the team has responded.' 

O'Neill believes Villa deserve to be contention for the Champions League after the success they have experienced on all fronts this season. 

They reached the Carling Cup final and the semi-finals of the FA Cup and victory in their last two games with City and Blackburn would put them in contention to break into the top four.  

He said: 'Could this be Villa's best chance of the top four? I've never looked at it from that viewpoint. I've just felt that it has been hard all year round. 

'But, the way it's fallen, the way we've hung in there, I actually think our performances this season, and what we've done in the cups, means we deserve this two-game crack at it (the Champions League).

'To give ourselves a chance we need to put maximum points on the board and that won't be easy, particularly under this sort of pressure.  'You would expect Tottenham to beat Bolton at White Hart Lane and we could win our two games and it would still not be in our hands. But it's worth battling for.'

Top four: Tottenham are in pole-position in the race for fourth

Top four: Tottenham are in pole-position in the race for fourth

Villa's chances of breaking into the elite could be even tougher after this season with O'Neill conceding he accepts City will become even stronger after their anticipated summer spending spree. 

He said: 'Will City be a major force next season? Undoubtedly. Without question, that would be relatively sound judgment from most people on what is going to happen.  

'Manchester City, in this era of recessionary times, can push on. They have made it know they will do that and will go for really quality players and will not be looking to go for players just to fill squads but the very best quality. 

'They will be an absolute major force. I don't know what ambitions Manchester City set out with at the start of the year. Seemingly, when Mark Hughes left, he said they were looking at 70-odd points. 

'They have their own ambitions and in time I think they will realise those ambitions. Things are just not going to overnight but you accept, when they buy the quality they have, that might tell you about their ambition.  

'They are driving on from that and they are going to push on and they will definitely be a major force.'

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