Barry 'will not let England down' - O'Neill

September 6, 2007

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill on Thursday insisted that Gareth Barry 'will not let England down' if he makes his first competitive start for his country in almost seven years in Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier with Israel.

The Villa midfielder is in strong contention to be part of the starting line-up at Wembley given the injury doubts over Steven Gerrard and Owen Hargreaves, and Frank Lampard's unavailability.

The only other time Barry featured in the first eleven for a non-friendly international was the World Cup qualifier with Finland in Helsinki in October 2000 when Howard Wilkinson was caretaker boss after Kevin Keegan's resignation.

Since then Barry has been at best a bit-part player with England and he was completely ignored by Sven Goran Eriksson for a three year spell.

But the 26-year-old has been revitalised since O'Neill's arrival at Villa Park 13 months ago and he is poised to earn his reward for impressing Steve McClaren in training this week.

O'Neill said: 'There is an old adage when referring to certain players which says 'he will never let you down' and that certainly applies to Gareth Barry.

'But he now also has great belief about himself. He has been great for Aston Villa since I have known him and deserved to get called back into the England squads last season under Steve McClaren.

'I am very pleased that he is now being picked in squads for England that really matter, qualifiers for major tournaments, as opposed to friendly matches and he deserves that.

'Of course, it is up to Steve whether he picks Gareth but he has a great determination about him. is very strong and has terrific ability.'

Barry has played more than 350 games for Villa since making his debut nine years ago as part of a three centre-back system alongside Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu.

He quickly made an impact with Keegan and, after making his England debut against the Ukraine in May 2000, was preferred to Rio Ferdinand for the squad for the European Championships in Holland and Belgium that summer.

A solid England career beckoned and Barry was handed his full debut by Keegan at left-back against France in Paris in September 2000.

Wilkinson then included him in the side which fought out a goalless draw with Finland the following month and another caretaker boss, Peter Taylor, named him in the side to face Italy in Turin in November 2000.

But that proved to be the last England start for the former Brighton trainee as Eriksson, apart from the occasional appearance as a substitute, largely ignored his claims.

Barry became disillusioned and during the summer of 2006 considered leaving Villa in the hope of reactivating his England claims at another club.

But O'Neill arrived just in time to persuade him to sign a new four year deal and convince the Hastings-born player his England ambitions could yet be realised with the Midlands club.

He earned his tenth cap as a substitute in last month's friendly clash with Germany at Wembley but now is poised to be involved when it really matters with qualification for Switzerland and Austria next summer at stake.