Gareth Barry started playing professional football in the late Nineties (the late Nineties might not sound so long ago, but oh, it really is), when having curtains was an acceptable hairstyle – Barry’s curtains were immaculate, a sign of the dedication that he would show throughout his long career as the model pro’s model pro. And now Gareth has retired, with more Premier League appearances (653) to his name than anyone else.
How to feel about this? Barry was not one to get fans jumping out of their seats, although he was popular wherever he played, especially at West Brom, Villa and Everton. Instead he ground you down with routine excellence, forcing you to concede that he was a midfielder with very few faults. He was always slow, but sound positional awareness and a high work rate compensated for his lack of zip. He looked like a choirboy but he wasn’t afraid to put his foot in and rarely got pushed around – unless you had seen him live, you might not realise he was a pretty big bastard to deal with, a six-footer with a sturdy physique and plenty of elbow to go around.
No-nonsense Fabio Capello loved Barry more than most. Indeed, the Italian had hoped to build his England midfield around him at the 2010 World Cup. But Barry was recovering from an injury going into that tournament and so couldn’t recapture the superb form he’d shown in qualifying – a vibrant Germany side made mincemeat of him and his England team-mates in the Round of 16.
Barry wasn’t quite the vanilla player he appeared. In 2018, he did ‘steal’ a taxi whilst on a West Brom training jaunt in Barcelona, which led to this splendid chant:
Tributes to Barry on social media are mostly along the same lines: very underrated, model pro, more reliable than a Honda Accord, once stole a taxi etc. This one sums up his football qualities nicely:
Gareth Barry could do everything. Exceptional passer, decent in the air, strong tackler, great cross, scored goals, mean pen taker & read the game excellently. Possibly most underrated player of the PL era. Nothing but fond memories of him, and hope he stays in the game. #avfc
— Alex Berwick (@Alex_Berwick) August 27, 2020
Nor did Barry crave fame beyond the pitch. He was the anti-Beckham, English football’s short back and sides (the curtains did not last long). A 7/10 metronome. Now he’s suddenly gone, it’s easy to see how much we take players like Barry for granted. So, we say: thanks Gareth. You put in one hell of a shift.