Barry: Germany crushed us but winning trophies has built me up again
22:27 GMT, 23 May 2012
Gareth Barry starts at the bitter end. Bloemfontein, June 27, 2010: England 1 Germany 4. ‘You wait so long to play in a World Cup and then you’re destroyed by your fiercest rivals,’ said Barry. ‘Walking off that pitch is the lowest part of my career. It took a long time to get over that.’
Anyone who thought Barry might never reappear at the very top level after Mesut Ozil sprinted away from him to set up Thomas Muller for Germany’s fourth is missing the point.
This is a man who left home aged 16 in pursuit of a football career, absorbing each pearl of advice from his coaches, working hard and patiently waiting until someone outside Birmingham noticed how he galvanised Aston Villa.
Up and running: Gareth Barry arrives in Manchester as the England squad assemble for the first time for new boss Roy Hodgson
At 31, Barry is a Barclays Premier League champion with Manchester City, has half a century of England caps and heads to Euro 2012 instilled with a quiet determination to make up for what happened two years ago.
Still, he refuses to volunteer it as an excuse, but the truth is that he was never properly fit in South Africa and defied medical logic to recover from a serious ankle injury to even make the plane.
This week, Barry is fresh, tanned and relaxed. He bounds down the staircase, skipping the bottom two steps. He is wearing baggy shorts, designer T-shirt and a happy vibe.
Euphoria from City’s title win has been cleansed by a break in Spain and there has been time to spend with his family before reporting for England duty, although not time to reclaim his Premier League medal from his father.
Champion: Barry won the Barclays Premier League title with Manchester
City after a thrilling final-day victory over QPR
The contrast is telling. When Fabio Capello named his World Cup squad, City had just missed qualifying for the Champions League, Barry’s ankle was in a cast and his days were planned around sessions in the oxygen tent.
This year, he is energised by Euro 2012 and the prospect of meeting Roy Hodgson, his seventh England manager.
Kevin Keegan was the first. Caretakers Howard Wilkinson and Peter Taylor picked him, as did Sven Goran Eriksson (although only twice). A significant breakthrough came under Steve McClaren and then came Capello.
It is perhaps no coincidence that two Italian managers, educated in a culture where the deepest midfielder sets the tempo and makes the play, had greatest faith in Barry.
Faith: Roberto Mancini (left) has put a great deal of trust in Barry
Capello always valued his defensive instinct, an ability to read the game, stay on his feet and be in the right areas. Roberto Mancini appreciates a passing range capable of moving the ball quickly to City’s creative forces rather than shuffling passes sideways to the full backs.
‘I learned a lot from Fabio Capello,’ said Barry. ‘He was good at studying games, looking back at what you should have done and where you should have been. If you weren’t there, he would make a big point of what you’d done wrong.
‘His English was poor to begin with but when it came to what he wanted from his players on the pitch he got his point across. He was very thorough in that department.
Captain of England: Having received the armband occasionally, Barry lead out his country for the first time in a 1-1 draw against Ghana at Wembley on March 29, 2011
FA Cup winner: Manchester City followed up the 1-0 semi-final victory over United by lifting the famous trophy following a 1-0 win over Stoke on May 14, 2011
‘Roberto Mancini is good at the same sort of stuff. That position in the middle of midfield is so important to them.
‘They are keen on instructions and they like strong personalities who can go out and follow them. Do something else — even something positive — and they wouldn’t be happy. They just want you to follow their instructions. I’d just go out and do what I was told.’
Basic skills like listening to orders, understanding and applying them were instilled by Villa’s youth-team coaches Kevin MacDonald and Tony McAndrew.
Champions League debut: Barry marked his first game in Europe's elite
club competition with a 1-1 draw at
home to Napoli on September 14, 2011, but City failed to progress from a tough group
‘They taught me how to act on and off the pitch,’ said Barry. ‘They were perfect for me, having just left home. Discipline was drilled into us. The old YTS jobs were still there. It was important to clean the boots right and to do your job right when you went on to the pitch. They didn’t ask you to be a superstar, they just said, “Do your job”.’
Barry has 52 caps, the same as Trevor Francis. Glenn Hoddle won 53, Sir Stanley Matthews 54 and Paul Gascoigne 57. This is glamorous company, yet Barry’s contributions during a 12-year international career are often overlooked.
‘It doesn’t bother me,’ he said. ‘Getting the big headlines is nice but I know if I’ve done my job right and, if I’m confident the manager knows as well, that’s more than satisfactory.’
50 England caps: Joined a list of legends with a half-century of international appearances as England beat world and European champions
Spain at Wembley on November 12, 2011
Scorer of Goal 2,000: Credited with England's 2,000th goal on November 15, 2011, even if the ball deflected off Sweden defender Daniel Majstorovic before finding its way into the net
Barry’s unassuming manner filters through. What about the goals he scored for Villa ‘There were a lot of penalties,’ he said.
How about the 50th cap in a win against Spain ‘I came on and ground it out for 20 minutes.’
Team-mates, those who know him best, hold him in the highest esteem. David Silva voted for him as Player of the Year and Mancini called for him to be England captain.
‘Gareth’s the man, simple as that,’ said Joe Hart. ‘He leads by example. No messing around, he never moans. When you start to panic, look at Gareth and he just keeps doing what he’s doing in his unselfish role. We know what a massive role he plays at our club and he does the same for England.’
BARRY'S BIG BREAKTHROUGH
Gareth Barry has become an England regular since his display against Israel in September 2007 marked his transformation from box-to-box midfielder to deep-lying holding playmaker. Manager Steve McClaren asked him to balance the forward runs of Steven Gerrard and Barry played well in a 3-0 win, keeping his place in the next game against Russia for another 3-0 victory. In 47 internationals since, Barry has featured in 40, missing one through suspension and three through injury. He has won 52 caps, scoring three goals. Barry made his debut at the age of 19 in the same game as Gerrard, coming on as a substitute against Ukraine at Wembley in May 2000.
The fashion for a five-man midfield with two sitting deep has helped Barry develop. At Aston Villa, he was an inspirational skipper with freedom to roam. At City he refined his role.‘I think that England game, against Israel (in 2007), when I came in for Owen Hargreaves and played alongside Steven Gerrard was the start of my transition from the box-to-box midfielder to someone who would sit a bit more,’ he said.
‘It probably suited me but it wasn’t until I was about 26 that I really tried to learn the defensive role. Even now, people say I’m not a specialist defensive midfielder for that reason.’
Hodgson will offer the first clues to his strategy in Saturday’s friendly in Norway and Barry believes there are reasons for quiet optimism under a manager with a reputation as a deep-thinking tactician.
‘Spain don’t just have one or two who can get on the ball in tight areas, they’ve six or seven,’ said Barry. ‘They have a fantastic group of players who for me are a step above anyone else.
‘They play the game the people want to see. It’s different to England at the minute. We haven’t got that group of players. If you’re comparing, they’re at a different level. But it doesn’t mean you can’t beat them as we saw in the friendly at Wembley. It might not have been beautiful to watch but it proved England can beat the best.
‘I’m not a manager and I don’t want to be one, but for the players, it’s so important to look at the opposition and work out how to beat them, rather than just saying, these are the best players, go and play.
‘Especially in tournaments, you’ve got to look at your opponents and their strengths and get the team in the right formation to win.’
Full support: Barry has thrown his backing behind new England boss Roy Hodgson
Hodgson’s years of overachievement with clubs like Fulham and West Bromwich Albion and nations like Switzerland and Finland should prepare him well for such a task.
The new boss has other things on his side. Like plenty of experience in the dressing room, confidence bred by Chelsea’s victory in Europe and the new champions of Manchester City. A general downgrade in expectation levels might help too.
‘As an England player you go through phases,’ said Barry. ‘When you make your debut you feel no pressure, you’re on top of the world and nothing’s expected of you.
Come a long way: Barry has
progressed since the pain of World Cup defeat by Germany in June, 2010
‘But the more caps you win and the more you’re around it, I think the pressure grows. When you’ve been to a couple of tournaments you realise what the country expects, as I’ve found out. You see how things are magnified. It’s the same job but it can be a different atmosphere. In South Africa we scrambled through the group playing badly but we were still expected to beat a German team who had played good football in the group games.
‘If we met them tomorrow, Germany would be the favourites. That’s the position we’re in. The expectation isn’t what it normally is, but that can help. Confidence will be high when you look at what City and Chelsea have achieved and the players will go there positive, thinking of lifting the trophy.
‘The first task is to impress the new manager. I feel as fit as ever. Winning trophies has made me more confident and relaxed and the experience of the World Cup will help.
‘All in all, I’m in a better place to play football for England.’