Gareth Barry – The unsung hero

He is the man with more Premier League appearance’s than any other player in history, and now I look at the career of Gareth Barry and examine just how good he was, and still is.

Gareth Barry made his Aston Villa debut on May 2nd 1998 aged 17, coming on as a substitute in Villa’s 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday. Little did he know that nearly 20 years on at the age of 36 he’d be breaking the record for most appearances in the Premier League. Barry played his 633rd Premier League game against Arsenal in October, which saw him surpass Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs – who didn’t retire until the age of 40.

Barry himself admitted in an interview with Sky Sports that he has been incredibly lucky with injuries, but it’s not just his fitness that has led to this milestone as managers have continually put their faith in him over his long career.

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Barry made over half of his appearances for Aston Villa, captaining them for a large portion of his time there and contributed to some great years for the midlands giants, pushing every year for European football. Alongside the likes of James Milner and Ashley Young, Villa were a force to be reckoned with but they never really pushed on for greater success, inevitably leading to them losing their prized assets, Gareth Barry being no exception.

Gareth Barry had dedicated over 10 years of his career to Aston Villa, making 441 appearances in all competitions, scoring 52 goals. However, after missing out on big move to Liverpool 12 months earlier, the midfield maestro got the move his performances and ability deserved and on June 2nd 2009 he signed for up and coming Manchester City.

He was an instant hit at the Etihad, slotting straight into defensive midfield, holding the fort while the more creative, flair players at City bombed forward and scored goal after goal. That was what he did and still does so well and is probably why he is so underrated by fans that have never had the pleasure of watching him on a weekly basis.

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He is composure personified, a truly gifted footballer who does the dirty work, under the radar and allows his teammates to take all the credit. If Manchester City were a super car then Gareth Barry was the engine inside. Yes, the sports car is beautiful and impressive to look at when at full speed but without the engine it would stop dead.

It would have been a travesty had a player as talented and dedicated as Gareth Barry finished his career without a major honour, so winning the FA cup and a Premier League title at Manchester City was thoroughly deserved and I guess a relief for him, that all his hard work and effort over the past 10 plus years had not gone unrewarded.

As an Everton fan I must admit I was sceptical when Barry signed on loan on September 2nd 2013 at 32 years-old. I, like many who had not seen Barry play regularly, doubted his ability and wondered what Roberto Martinez thought he would bring to the club.

It took me 90 minutes to realise how silly I had been. His technical ability, vision, leadership, pinpoint passing and determination was there for all to see as he ran the show in a 1-0 home victory over Chelsea, a tremendous goal line block from Samuel Eto’o his highlight of the day.

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After a brilliant first season, Everton made the deal a permanent one the following summer and Gareth Barry continued to impress over the following four years, becoming a fan favourite with the notoriously hard to please Goodison faithful. Everton fans know a player when they see one and we knew we had one in Gareth.

Roberto Martinez described him as “One of England’s best ever players” and although I didn’t agree with a lot of things Roberto said in his Everton tenure, you would be hard pressed to find a Villan, Citizen or Evertonian who could disagree with the Spaniard’s statement.

He now of course plays his trade for West Brom, where he has gone on to break Ryan Giggs’ appearance record, and will be hoping to extend that record over the next season or two.

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It was a pleasure to have watched Gareth Barry in the Royal Blue over the four years he was at the club and I feel truly privileged that I got the opportunity to do so; my only regret is we didn’t get him earlier. He is the perennial unsung hero and perfect example to any young footballers of a model professional. Quiet and reserved off the pitch but a fierce competitor when he crosses the white line, holding the record as the most cautioned player in Premier League history, but I suppose when you play over 600 games you’re going to get booked occasionally.

Well done Gaz!

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