Liverpool's long drawn-out pursuit of Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry was one of last summer's more notable, if ultimately abortive, transfer sagas. But although Villa boss Martin O'Neill succeeded in thwarting his counterpart Rafa Benitez's advances for Barry, the Irishman expects the Reds to reactivate their desire to land the England midfielder this summer - especially as Benitez, newly contracted at Anfield, is due to be handed a sizeable war-chest to fund his latest round of squad strengthening.
Accordingly, O'Neill is already preparing counter-measures.
Liverpool were eventually put off their puruit of Barry last year by Villa's £18 million aking price. Perversely, the Reds chose instead to spend more than that on Robbie Keane, whose impact was so minimal that they sold him back to Tottenham Hotspur, at a loss, at the first opportunity.
Now Benitez is likely to have £30-40 million to spend, and he is expected to be back knocking on the Villa Park door for Barry.
And if the player excels for Villa on Saturday at Anfield, it will only add to the Spaniard's determination to take Steven Gerrard's big pal to Anfield.
O’Neill, though, is still not prepared to let one of his most prized assets go without a fight. And if the recently stuttering Villans can secure a place in next season's Champions League, O’Neill believes Barry will happily stay in the West Midlands.
Even if Villa have to settle for participation in the inaugural Europa League, O'Neill is still hopeful he can persuade Barry to remain at Villa Park.
“Benitez could be back for Barry now it looks as if he’s got some money to spend,” O’Neill is quoted as saying in The Daily Express. “I don’t know what Liverpool are thinking and it’s not my concern at this minute.
"In the summertime, if we qualify for the Champions League, then there would be a decent chance Barry would stay. That’s what he has said.
“Fine. My stance has not changed. If we didn’t make it, the chance for him to go and play in the Champions League is not something I would begrudge him.
“Liverpool might come in: Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea – I assume Barry would want to stay in this country. Only four clubs can play in the Champions League, so there’s a limited choice.”
O'Neill believes Barry has enjoyed playing for an impressive Villa team this season, and the player has regained the fans' respect after alienating many of them last summer by publicly stating his wish to go to Liverpool.
The Villa boss stressed, “We’d love to keep Barry at Aston Villa."
And regarding Saturday's game against Liverpool, he added, “Barry is a very capable player. We are capable of going to Anfield and getting a result.”
Although O’Neill fell out with Benitez over the Liverpool gaffer's pursuit of Barry, he said on Friday. “I’ve got the utmost respect for the coaches who are doing it.
“Benitez has won the Champions League with Liverpool and done exceptionally well with Valencia. I’m not constantly on the phone to Benitez, but the relationship is fine."
And regarding last summer's difference of opinion? "It's gone,” said O'Neill, his tongue only slightly in his cheek.
Mark Hinton, Goal.com