It was the end of summer, 2007, and Barclays Chief Executive Officer John Varley was being driven on a sunny afternoon between Hampshire and London. The months-long battle between his giant London institution and the consortium of Royal Bank of Scotland, Banco Santander and Fortis over who would buy ABN Amro was at its height, and yet Varley sounded calm as could be. "If we don't bring off the merger, there's plenty of fuel in our tanks, plenty of growth opportunities," he said that day. "It is not something that will cause me loss of sleep."

How strange these days have been. Barclays indeed lost on the deal, and ABN's acquisition has been beating RBS over the head ever since. Now Barclays is open for business in America with 10,000 new employees taken from Lehman Brothers and observers are mulling how the new-look Barclays will be positioned in the U.S., and if other European-based firms follow Barclays as a vulture player on Wall Street.

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