Gareth Barry: 600 Not Out

As Gareth Barry reaches an extraordinary 600 Premier League appearances, SOTP has a look at his remarkable career to date.

Like much of his career, this astonishing achievement will likely be overlooked by many this weekend. Gareth Barry will become only the third player, and the youngest to do so, to reach 600 Premier League appearances.

Scholes (499), Gerrard (504), Lampard (609), and Giggs (632) have all had stellar careers, yet Gareth Barry’s name is rarely uttered in the same sentence as those Premier League legends. However, Barry has surpassed the number of appearances of the former two, and is fast catching up with Lampard’s haul. It seems silly, especially considering the success he has had, but Barry has never really been appreciated; in fact, he’s often been maligned.

The reasons behind this are puzzling. Unlike the aforementioned he has seldom been a scorer of spectacular goals, nor has he been one for jinking wing play. In other words – he has rarely been a headline writer. Nevertheless, Barry’s contribution to Aston Villa, Manchester City and now Everton, has been immeasurable.

When John Gregory gave him his Aston Villa debut in early May 1998, few would have expected that Barry would go on to reach 600 Premier League appearances. On that day at Hillsborough he lined up as part of back three in a 3-1 win. Whilst his debut was at centre back, in his early days at Aston Villa he was considered to be primed for the left back role. Indeed, much of his early career, both at club and international level, was spent there. However, there was a feeling amongst many that Barry’s talents were being wasted. A move forward to left wing saw Barry add more goals to his game, yet there was a sense that his footballing intelligence, discipline, and reading of the game were still being underutilised.

It was not until Martin O’Neill’s arrival at Villa Park in the summer of 2006 that Barry was given a consistent role in his favoured central midfield position.

O’Neill’s appointment gave Barry a new lease of life. Appointed captain that summer, Barry thrived, and led the team brilliantly during his two-year spell as captain; scoring 17 Premier League goals in the process.

His performances were beginning to get the recognition they deserved and England manager Steve McClaren brought Barry back into the England fold after 4 years in the international wilderness. Barry’s assured performances during England’s ill-fated Euro 2008 qualifying campaign were one of the few plus points in McClaren’s otherwise dire England reign.

All looked to be going so well until the summer of 2008. Amid a dispute with the Villa hierarchy regarding a prospective move to Liverpool, Barry was fined two weeks’ wages, banned from training with the first team, and had the club captaincy taken from him. When Barry’s move to Liverpool never materialised, there were those who thought that he may sit and sulk. Indeed, Villa fans were fervent and vociferous in their disapproval of their former captain, booing him heavily during a pre-season game against Walsall.

Yet, unlike many other players, Barry did not let his own personal disappointments get the better of him. That season he started all 38 Premier League games, and chipped in with 5 goals in the process.

By the following summer it was clear that Barry’s ambitions no longer matched those of Aston Villa. He craved Champions League football and when newly rich Manchester City came calling in June 2009, Barry left Villa Park after 12 years’ service which had yielded 441 appearances, and 52 goals.

Barry’s move to City was an unprecedented success. An FA Cup win in 2011 was followed by a Premier League winners medal the following year. A key player in both triumphs, Barry was enjoying the pinnacle of his career.

Barry’s England career continued to prosper under McClaren’s successor, Fabio Capello, and he was handed the England captaincy on several occasions. Such was Barry’s importance to England that when he suffered an injury playing for City towards the backend of the 2010 season, England’s World Cup plans were thrown into disarray. Capello himself was concerned and went as far as to describe Barry as “really important.” This was particularly high praise from the notoriously unemotional Italian.

Although selected for the tournament Barry was never fully fit. When England were unceremoniously dumped out by a rampant German team in Bloemfontein, Barry became the scapegoat and unfairly bore much of the blame. Thankfully those within the England management team continued to value Barry’s influence on the team, and he remained a mainstay in the England team during the following qualifying campaign.

When Capello quit England after falling out with the FA, Roy Hodgson, his replacement, included Barry in his squad for Euro 2012. During a pre-tournament friendly against Norway, Barry injured his lower abdomen and was subsequently ruled out of the tournament. This would turn out to be his last England appearance.

Back at City and ready for the new season, Barry once again found himself as the linchpin of the Manchester City midfield. By City’s new high standards, the season was a disappointing one; missing out on the Premier League title to their Manchester rivals, and losing to Wigan Athletic in the last minute of the FA Cup final.

City manager, Roberto Mancini, was sacked and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean failed to see what others had seen in Barry. Facing a season on the bench, Barry secured a last minute loan move to Everton. The loan move was made permanent the following summer.

As one of the few older statesmen in an otherwise very inexperienced Everton side, Barry continued in his role as a defensive minded central midfielder. Roberto Martinez, the then Everton manager, described Barry as “one of England’s greats!”

Yet Barry is consistently undervalued by many football fans. However, those who have managed and played alongside him have never wavered in their praise. Indeed, whilst there are a few impressive statistics that separates Barry from many of his peers (namely the fact that he has 110 Premier League yellow cards, 11 more than anyone else!), there is one startling stat that stands out from all the rest. In the 18 seasons since Barry made his Premier League debut, he has only failed to appear in fewer than 30 games once (2001/02). In fact, since the start of the 1998/99 season, Barry has played in 594 out of a possible 684 Premier League matches.

His longevity, consistency, adaptability as well his ability to remain injury free are testament to how he has handled his life both on and off the pitch.

Whilst he may not enjoy the same acclaim as many of his peers, Barry has gone on to become a Premier League stalwart. He will probably never be considered amongst the very elite that this country has seen, yet his achievements to date have been remarkable. Barry will no doubt go on to break Giggs’ record and will set a new high that will probably never be broken.

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