All hail Barry: Why low-key Gareth is Manchester City”s man for the big occasion
On being informed by a friend earlier this year that the increasingly peculiar Joey Barton had criticised him extravagantly in a magazine interview, Gareth Barry had only one question.
‘What time are we due on the first tee’ he asked.
While those close to him advised Barry to defend himself or request an apology, the Manchester City player was concerned only about what time his weekly round at a Cheshire golf course was about to start.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. This was, after all, a case of the credentials of Gareth Barry of City and England being questioned by Joey Barton of QPR and, well, QPR. It was hardly going to be a fair fight.
Mr Reliable: Gareth Barry is Manchester City”s go-to guy
Nevertheless, Barry’s reaction was typical of an unfussy, pragmatic individual who, almost without being noticed, has quietly become one of the most important players of Roberto Mancini’s time at the Etihad Stadium.
Players like David Silva, Sergio Aguero and, of course, Mario Balotelli, will always generate more headlines and demand more attention. They are extravagantly gifted.
Consider this remarkable fact, though. Since Mancini took over at City two years ago this week, his team have faced the Barclays Premier League super powers of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham on 19 occasions and Barry has started all but one of those games. Last May, against Tottenham at home, he missed out because he was injured.
It is a telling statistic, one that says everything for the way that Mancini has come to rely on a player who — along with Ivory Coast international Yaya Toure — has come to form the anchor of his midfield.
Playing against the big guns: Barry takes on Alex Song during City”s 1-0 win over Arsenal
One former City player, the 1968 championship winner Mike Summerbee, is convinced of Barry’s significance.
‘He is so important to us,’ said Summerbee recently. ‘I would go as far as saying that he is one of our best players.
‘Look at the games he plays. When we need to win, he plays. That says everything. He is a fantastic and sometimes under-rated player.’
Signed from Aston Villa by Mancini’s predecessor Mark Hughes, Barry’s stock has risen and fallen with the English football public in the intervening months and years. Now it is on the rise again.
Considered indispensable to Fabio Capello’s England in advance of the 2010 World Cup, Barry ended up limping in to the tournament barely half-fit after suffering an ankle injury playing for City a month before things got underway in South Africa.
During a miserable four weeks for the national team, few suffered more than Barry. Clearly in no condition to play, he cut an embarrassed, shambling figure as Germany routed England 4-1 in Bloemfontein.
‘The bottom line is that Gareth shouldn’t have been there,’ said a source close to the 30-year-old. ‘He wasn’t fit and it showed. Gareth suffered during that World Cup and continued to suffer after it.’
Off the pace: Barry struggles against Sami Khedira in Bloemfontein
Barry’s rehabilitation has been gradual but his stand-out showing in City’s 1-0 win at home to Arsenal at the weekend provided the most compelling evidence yet that he is ready to become a central figure in this season’s title race and indeed for his country in next summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
On Sunday, the range and accuracy of Barry’s passing was exemplary. When City play fluently, tempo is everything and at the weekend it was Barry’s metronomic passing — more than Silva’s artistry or Toure’s blustering power — that eased Mancini’s team through what was a tight and important game.
Coaches at City believe that the presence of Balotelli and Aguero have helped Barry’s game this season. Whereas last season’s attacking focus Carlos Tevez would, more often than not, come short towards the midfield looking for the ball, City’s current attacking duo are more likely to run behind defences to give Barry a better range for his passes.
Certainly, Mancini’s coaching staff have long appreciated Barry, even if they would like to see more assists and goals. Low maintenance and reliable, the southerner is a throwback to the pre-Twitter and Facebook age.
Back on song: Barry netted England”s 2000th international goal against Sweden
‘He hates all that stuff,’ said his friend. He doesn’t understand why anybody would want to tell people what they had for breakfast.
‘Gareth isn’t anti-social. He likes his mates but really he just wants to do his stuff on the pitch and go home.’
On a recent flight home from Champions League duty, one image perhaps summed Barry up well.
While his team-mates settled down to play interactive racing and war games on their personal computers, Barry and James Milner began a game of the traditional dice game Yahtzee.
It probably wouldn’t have been Joey Barton’s chosen way to pass time on a flight but City’s ‘teacher’s pet’ (Barton’s words) won’t care about that.
Next summer one of these men will be in Eastern Europe with an England shirt on. The other will be at home feeling angry.