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