“Judas, Judas”, that evocative biblical name could be applied and regularly chanted at either Gareth Barry or Dimitar Berbatov next season if they are seen to depart their clubs for the promised land of the ‘Big Four’.
They’d be following in some familiar and famous footsteps in running the gauntlet of public opinion – deciding to sacrifice any good PR for a move to a better-placed club and the prospect of major honours.
Nick Barmby and Luis Figo (2000), Sol Campbell (2001), Rio Ferdinand (2002), Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney and Alan Smith (2004) know all about consequences of leaving a club you have developed ties with for a bitter rival.
Both Barry and Berbatov are loved by Aston Villa and Spurs fans respectively and their clubs’ would dig deep in their pockets to keep them, but they cannot currently offer the one thing that both players crave — Champions League football.
Both players in their mid-twenties and approaching the biggest contracts of their careers so you can forgive them a little tie for thought. But why not stay and be part of a bid to break through the glass ceiling that separates the top four from the rest ?
Barry, with two years at Villa left, senses that this could be his best chance of moving to a title challenger. Liverpool have submitted their opening gambit and await the outcome of talks between Martin O’Neill and Randy Lerner — and the player himself. The England midfielder has stayed pretty quiet so far, although his kiss the badge goal celebration after equalising against West Ham may say something about his state of mind.
I think most neutrals, and maybe some Liverpool fans who would rather the money be spent on someone else, would like Barry to stay at Villa Park. For England’s sake it may be better for Barry to remain an ever-present in the Villains midfield instead of taking his chances with Lucas, Javier Mascherano and Xavi Alonso for the role of Stevie G’s ‘Boy Wonder’ sidekick.
Villa are going in the right direction, they’d argue. Liverpool are beset with boardroom upheaval, it’s clear. So who knows what position the clubs could be in 12 months down the line ?
Well, on the other hand, look at it like this. If Barry signs a new deal at Villa and breaks his leg in the first game of the season, where would Villa be when he’s fit to return in say, six months time ? Top six ? Top eight ? Could they maintain a challenge without their skipper for over half the campaign ? I doubt it.
But, say he signs for Liverpool and still breaks his leg in August, what’s left for him to play for when he eventually makes his first-team return ? You’d expect his new club to be through to the Champions League knockout stages and still within two or three wins of top spot in the Premiership table ?
Therein lies the difference.
Unlike Barry, Berbatov has played Champions League football before. He’s even played in the final, although he unhappily finished on the losing side when his Bayer Leverkusen lost to Real Madrid in Glasgow, 2002.
Berbatov’s main contribution to that memorable showpiece was when, finding himself inside the Bayer penalty box just as Roberto Carlos’ deflected cross was dropping invitingly on the left-foot volley for Zinedine Zidane, he turned his back on the Frenchman’s shot to make sure he had a good view of it crashing into the top corner. Defending never really was his thing, but his ability to kill the ball with a deft first touch and thread immaculate balls through to team-mates, plus fire them in himself from impossible angles makes him interesting to Manchester United and Chelsea.
His case is slightly different as most Spurs fans would admit that their board may not be too disappointed to cash in on the Bulgarian if their valuation is met, although they would have some explaining to do.