Gareth Barry’s career has undergone something of a revival in the last few years, the player himself an apparent late bloomer in convincing football fans of his quality and worth to the team.
The England manager, Fabio Capello is eager to see Gareth Barry return to the England fold after his recent injury layoff. The criticism of the team following last week’s disappointing draw with the USA has seen Barry declared by some as the team’s saviour, the missing piece in the World Cup jigsaw that will allow those around him to flourish and the team to progress. What has changed in the last few years to change people’s opinion?
Barry made his debut for the England team in 2000, at the age of 20, and so the signs were undoubtedly there that he had potential quality. However, he was to earn only a few more caps in the next SEVEN years. Previous England managers simply didn’t want to select him. A quiet personality on and off the pitch, Barry was not making himself heard. Sven Goran Eriksson particularly did not seem to rate him. Barry, at 29 years of age, has currently earned 36 England caps, not a particularly large total for someone of that age, especially for a player now deemed so important to England’s fortunes. Compare him with Shaun Wright Phillips, for example, who has earned 32 caps, a player who many class as a squad player at best. Many may argue Wright Phillips has less competition playing on the wing than in central midfield where Barry is faced with Gerrard and Lampard but he has still had to compete with the likes of David Beckham, Joe Cole and more recently Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott.
After being so consistently overlooked by previous England managers, the much criticised and even ridiculed Steve McClaren deserves credit for making the move to bring Barry back into the England squad.
Since his call-up for a friendly against Spain in 2007, Barry has not looked back. His performances in the games that followed catapulted him into the first team reckoning, becoming a mainstay in the team ever since. His calming influence on the team, defensive qualities and passing ability allowed Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard more freedom to showcase their own talents. Barry’s presence gave the team more balance and made for a stronger outfit.
His performances for England seemed to revitalise him personally, his status as club captain at Aston Villa also pushing him to become the dominant influence in the Villa team, with the confidence to now display a consistently high level of performance. This was demonstrated by Liverpool’s very public pursuit of the player, a saga that brought Barry into focus even more. That a club of the stature of Liverpool, and also reportedly Arsenal, were now looking to sign Barry, perhaps he was better than people had previously thought? Liverpool themselves were willing to sacrifice the services of Xabi Alonso in order to ensure Barry’s acquisition, admittedly though something that I personally thought an unwise move, and so it proved. Although recognising Barry as a quality player, Xabi Alonso is the better footballer.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, they were to suffer a double blow, missing out on Barry after Manchester City stole in and Xabi Alonso having made the decision to make the move to Madrid. Now playing for a cash rich and ever improving City side, Barry has remained in the public eye, with the opportunity for further improvement to come with even more quality players around him.
Gareth Barry himself deserves most credit for his obvious improvement over the last few years and his ability to force his way back into the reckoning. Steve McClaren did give him his opportunity but Barry still had to perform and seize his chance, which he certainly has done.
If fit, he should reclaim his place in the England team for Friday’s fixture against Algeria. From a personal perspective, the combination of Gerrard and Lampard in the centre of midfield has never appeared one that has worked particularly well. Despite promising early signs in the game against the USA, both players seemed to fade out of the game as time went on with Lampard remaining pretty much anonymous throughout. When both players are paired together it appears a case of one or the other who seems to influence the game. With Barry back in the team, Lampard will be able to assume more attacking positions, as he does at Chelsea, confident of Barry’s defensive positioning behind him. Capello will hopefully then move Gerrard into the more advanced role behind Wayne Rooney, the position he plays so well in at Liverpool. Whilst the spotlight will certainly remain on the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney in the hope of World Cup glory, it is thanks to the work of player’s like Gareth Barry that allows them their stage to shine. After the struggling climb of his international career, Barry may just be about to reach the peak of redemption.
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