THE MIDLANDER: Millions of reasons why Barry and Mowbray are now going
Two subjects have dominated Midlands' football during the past fortnight, with the game's universal language once again being spoken to the detriment of the region's clubs. I refer, of course, to the sagas involving Aston Villa's Gareth Barry and West Brom boss Tony Mowbray. At first glance, it may appear that the duo have little in common. But the power of money can have a bizarre effect. It can split personal relationships within a family unit. So, in a business as cash-driven as football, one should not really wonder why people say one thing and then find it incredibly different not to do another. Let's take Barry's situation first. I have dealt with him on a professional basis for some time and he has always been helpful in dealing with his media commitments. He is polite, affable and fairly straight-forward. However, I cannot believe that he has handled this whole affair so badly. This particular story began to unravel in April 2008, before the derby against Birmingham City, when he was put up in front of assembled hacks with his future high on the agenda. I have it from a top source that this was deliberate. Villa boss Martin O'Neill wanted to hear for himself just what was going through Barry's mind. It would have been easy to pull the midfielder out of his interviews. Clubs do it all the time if there are tricky situations they want to avoid. But Barry came out with the line about needing to play Champions League football and the Irishman had his answer. To my mind that was the first of three mistakes. The second was his attack on O'Neill when Villa's boss went to watch Euro 2008. O'Neill simply did not deserve the criticism he was subjected to. And the final one was his letter by way of explanation to the supporters he left behind. I remember being ushered into the old dining room at Bodymoor Heath just months after Barry's 18th birthday when John Gregory allowed us to speak to him after the youngster had agreed a long-term contract. Gregory uttered the words: 'There he is, the club's latest millionaire,' and the teenager blushed. Eleven years and plenty of money later, Barry finished with an open letter to supporters when he talked about the need to safeguard the future of his family after his move to Manchester City. Is he sure? Even if he had stayed put at Villa Park, he would have been looking at earning around half the £26m that he will now trouser at Eastlands. Now, as I've said before, I like Gareth but his statement is almost obscene. It's an insult to the people that come and watch him - particularly in the week when 800-odd people have lost their livelihoods after the LDV factory closed down in nearby Washwood Heath. However, in the final reckoning, he has to go with the club's best wishes. He gave his all during the dark days and if Villa cannot - for whatever reason - compete financially, then it is entirely fair that he seeks a healthier wage packet. By the end of it though, he may end up the richest player never to have won a single trophy. While it was a messy end for Villa's skipper, it is one that the Hawthorns' hierarchy will be hoping to avoid as far as Mowbray is concerned. But here again, it seems that words are cheap in the football industry. Once more, I've sat and listened to Mowbray on numerous occasions. At the first press conference when he was unveiled in the East Stand at the Hawthorns his language was littered with words such as: 'integrity,' 'honesty' and 'humility.' There has been little by way of evidence to throw at him since then that he has not lived up to those lofty ideals. Until now. At this precise moment, I don't know what the end game is. Celtic need to come up with some serious cash, it would appear. To make the whole issue go away, all Mowbray had to do was issue a statement saying he wasn't interested. Burnley's Owen Coyle managed it. But the speculation has continued. And sometimes silence speaks volumes. Again, speaking to a club source, it seems that Mowbray was fronted up about Gordon Strachan's possible future departure the week before it actually happened. According to my information, the manager said then that he wasn't interested. Fortunately for West Brom - although fortune doesn't come into it really - they had the foresight to insert a clause demanding compensation. Mowbray could walk out, of course. That would precipitate a bloody scrap that none of the parties would want. So, we end with the ball in Celtic's court. Don't forget though, that shortly before the season's end, the Baggies' chief was the one calling for players to stay put after their relegation. He was the one asking for loyalty, saying that they had a responsibility to return the club to the Premier League. Does that not apply to him, as well? Celtic are a big draw. No-one would dispute that, even though there seem to be major problems with the infrastructure given Setanta's likely collapse. But if he does leave Mowbray's self-inflated lofty moral position would have been undermined with football once more showing itself to be the one sport where ethics fly out of the window as soon as the whiff of a few quid hits the air.
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