Premier League

Record Breaker To Be Gareth Barry Is Under-appreciated

 • by Simon Collings
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When he made his Premier League debut back in May 1998, Gareth Barry admits he could never envisage being where he is now.

The 36-year-old is just one game away from making his 633rd appearance in the Premier League.

That tally will see him leapfrog Ryan Giggs as the player with the most Premier League appearances in history.

It is an incredible achievement from a player who has now played in England’s top-flight for a staggering 19 years.

To put that into perspective, his West Bromwich Albion team-mate and fellow midfielder, Sam Field, wasn’t even born when Barry made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday on 2nd May 1998.

That day at Hillsborough now seems like a distant memory and Barry confesses he could never have foreseen racking up so many appearances.

“You make your debut as a young kid and you are just focused on different things,” he says. “You’re never setting yourself a target like this.

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“As you hit certain landmarks along the way, your 100th and so on, even when I hit 500 I am thinking – ‘You’re coming towards the end of your career, you are not expecting to play many more games after that.’

“So I am really proud, as I said, to have been able to keep going. But I think it has helped me that I have approached it like that, not sort of setting myself any targets.

“I have taken it a season at a time. I have tried to keep in the best shape, keep my focus on my job. I have tried to enjoy it. It is a fantastic life I have been living, so keep it going!”

Over his time in the Premier League, Barry has witnessed first hand how dramatically the division has changed.

His time in England’s top flight has seen him turn out for four clubs – Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and now West Brom.

With each spell at those sides, Barry has watched how the Premier League has grown into one of the most watched and lucrative divisions in the world.

That influx of money has allowed the game to radically change and grow. In particular, new technology has come in aiding player development.

Indeed now we hear managers discussing how a player is in ‘the red zone’ or how squad members have been tracked via GPS during the off-season.

A player’s performance can be broken down by his number of touches, passes and distance covered, with analysis going down to the finest of details.

It is a far cry from when Barry was first making his way in the game almost two decades ago.

“It is a massive change when I look back to rolling up there at the training ground,” he says.

“You used to turn up half an hour before, put your kit on and run out. That was it.

“There was no pre-activation, no yoga, no treatment in the medical room to get you ready for training.

“Sports science is huge now, there is so much data that goes into the game. The speed of the game has got much faster. Recovery is so much different.

“There are so many changes that have happened and ones that I have taken on board as time has gone on.

“I have tried to adapt to them. I have not stuck in a rut – ‘This is working for me now, I am not going to change.’

“I have taken them all onboard and I think they have helped me in my career.”

It is a credit to Barry, and it speaks volumes about him, that he has not been left behind by the ever-changing Premier League.

Some fans may scoff about the quality of the midfielder, but the fact that he is set to become the Premier League’s record appearance holder should underline how talented he is.

This is a player who was snapped up by Manchester City when they had unlimited funds to sign anyone they wanted in the world.

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This is a player who was wanted by Arsenal when they tried to revamp their midfield in the years after they went a whole Premier League season unbeaten.

This is a player who the then Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez wanted to bring in at the expense of Xabi Alonso.

This is a player who has been chronically underrated. Listen to those inside football and they will tell you about how good a player Barry is.

“He is a dream for a manager,” says Everton boss Ronald Koeman. “You cannot have enough of those type of football players.”

Barry is the type of individual whose work can be easily overlooked by fans, but he is often the glue holding a team together.

Sitting in the middle of the park, he has been able to orchestra proceedings while shielding the back four.

It was clear from an early stage in his career that Barry was not blessed with blistering pace but, as he has continued to do, he adapted.

The midfielder developed himself into a player who read the game and thought one step ahead by intercepting and breaking up attacks.

He may not have been dribbling round five opponents and sticking the ball in the top corner, but Barry was still developing into a valuable asset for any team.

Unselfishly, Barry made himself the foil for others to shine in front of him and this was particularly the case at Manchester City.

The likes of Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero may have grabbed the headlines as they won the Premier League in 2012, but it was Barry providing the base for the team.

“He played a massive part in the success that we enjoyed at City,” James Milner recently told The Guardian.

“And, if you look at the team he was part of, he often played alongside Yaya Toure in midfield and Gareth was the perfect foil for Yaya because his willingness to sit in and ability to read the game allowed Yaya to push forward as often as he wanted to.”

Those around Barry are aware and appreciate just how special a player he is.

And, when he makes that 633rd appearance to break the Premier League record, perhaps he will finally get the recognition he deserves.

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