Gareth Barry – record breaker still with a role to play?
Now 36, Gareth Barry is the elder statesman of Everton and as he prepares for his 21st Premiership campaign, does he still have a role to play?
A proven performer, he stands on the brink of setting the all-time appearance record needing just five more outings to pass the 632 of Ryan Giggs.
Many would like him to achieve that landmark in the royal blue of Everton but, sentimentality is not a good enough reason upon which to base him being selected to play.
Eyebrows rose when the Hastings born midfielder arrived on a deadline day loan deal in September 2013, but Barry proved his worth with a marvellous 32-game debut season that earned him a three-year contract, and he’s continued to play a big part since.
He played 33 games the following season, 33 the season after and started 23 last season with 10 appearances as a substitute. His not completing a full season being down to suspensions as he does pick up rather too many yellow cards.
Many Evertonians will quickly tell you he’s too slow, well let’s be honest, when did he ever have blistering pace? The answer is never.
More will tell you he’s not going to weigh in with too many goals – true, he’s only netted 52 times in his league career.
What Barry brings though is a calmness, experience and big game know-how to the squad and that’s probably why he was made vice-captain by Ronald Koeman, a pragmatic manager who it seems looks beyond the players age in selecting him to the first team.
Originally a central defender with Aston Villa, he’s played left back and became an established, respected midfielder both domestically and internationally, having amassed 53 caps for England too.
Barry is a fine example of how to look after and respect the body. He makes as many strong tackles as anybody else, but rarely suffers injury, testament to his conditioning and fitness and only once, season 2001/2, has played less than 30 games.
He’s combative for sure, and there’s as much the reason for him being the most yellow-carded player as any lack of pace.
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So, is there still a role for Barry in the Everton squad being re-modelled this summer by Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh – I actually think there is.
When Barry first arrived, he played predominantly alongside James McCarthy, the former Wigan player being the energetic foil to the more precise Barry.
Last season, and prior to the arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin and the emergence of Tom Davies, Gana Gueye was the young pair of energetic legs alongside Barry in the midfield.
With the arrival of Davy Klaassen to add further high-energy to the midfield, Barry isn’t likely to see too many Premiership starts, but I believe Ronald Koeman still feels the veteran has a role to play, albeit from the bench.
Maybe it’ll be as a late-in-the-game substitute to help defend a lead, calmness, experience and know-how being vital qualities when all around may be suffering fatigue or panicking under pressure?
Maybe the manager sees Barry as the ideal squad player for the cup competitions and Europa League, experience again a key element in handling the pressure of so many competitions.
Maybe he’ll be entrusted with specific man-marking roles – who’ll forget the number he did on Diego Costa that ended with the firebrand Chelsea forward being red-carded in that momentous FA Cup tie?
He’ll almost certainly be used in a defensive midfield role as his Premier League career stats would suggest… 993 tackles with a 78% success rate; 77 blocked shots; 615 interceptions; 844 clearances.
Stats can of course be twisted to suit any agenda, but cold hard numbers show he wins more duels and more balls in the air than he loses, so in the last 15-20 minutes or so of a tight game, his experience could be just what’s needed to steady the ship and keep hold of a result.
Looking beyond this season, it seems a not unreasonable assumption that he could be considered for a coaching role with the club once he formerly hangs his boots up.
Younger, hungry players could learn an awful lot from a man like Barry, and it’s hard to imagine that a player who’s spent over twenty years in arguably the toughest league in the world doesn’t have advice for and lessons to teach youngsters looking to build a career in the game.
With the feeling around the club and certainly amongst the fan base that we need to end our trophy drought it would be fitting if Gareth Barry were to be a part of it… and set that new and probably never to be beaten appearance record along the way… all in the royal blue of Everton.