The fall of 2011 has marked a turnaround of sorts for Gareth Barry. More confident performances for Manchester City as well as the honor of scoring England’s 2,000th goal in the 1-0 November friendly win over Sweden.
Late last season, former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton referred to Barry as “slow as a turtle,” and a “teacher’s pet,” in explaining why he (Barton) hasn’t received an England call up since 2007. Since Barton opened his Twitter account over the summer, the general public has been subject to almost daily rants of this nature from the current QPR man, but last spring it caused quite a stir throughout the English football community.
With the signing of Samir Nasri during the August transfer window, it appeared Barry’s time as a regular with Manchester City was coming to an end. Last season manager Roberto Mancini played a more tactically defensive style, employing three central “holding” midfielders in most matches. This shield which consisted of Barry, Nigel DeJong, and Yaya Toure provided cover to a backline whose overall quality, save the outstanding Vincent Kompany, was questionable. But with the exception of Toure’s daring forward runs, this approach often stifled the Citizens attack, and led to opposition supporters and numerous critics in the British press repeating the mantra of “boring, boring City.”
The theory goes if you spend boatloads of cash you are under a moral obligation to play beautiful football. But the reality is that Roberto Mancini is judged by one thing and it is his ability to advance Manchester City into the Premier League elite. Barry may not be the most technically gifted, quickest or best passing holding midfielder in the English game, but few are more effective than him. Despite City’s outlandish spending and more attacking approach, Barry has become even more a mainstay in the Blues squad than he was last season. This has meant more limited pitch time for among others, the highly priced Nasri, Adam Johnson, Nigel DeJong and the often injured Owen Hargreaves.
Barry has provided a level of cover for the back four and connectivity with the more free flowing attacking style that his central midfield counterpart de Jong has failed to deliver this season. Barry, who began his career as a centreback before moving to left back, and eventually into the midfield had shown definitive signs of aging in both his England and Manchester City performances during the 2010-11 season. But the 2011-12 season has thus far been Barry’s best since he led Aston Villa to an unlikely sixth place finish in 2006-07.
Barry has become the glue of the City team, and once City’s prolific scoring came to an end in a tough stretch of matches over the past month, he turned in some of the best performances a holding midfielder in the Premier League have given this season. Against Liverpool, he went blow for blow over ninety minutes with the excellent Lucas Leiva in an important 1-1 draw which at the time kept the Blues unbeaten in the league. Two weeks later against Chelsea, City suffered their first defeat but Barry was outstanding especially after Gaël Clichy was sent off reducing MCFC to ten men. A week later against Arsenal, Barry was arguably the best player on the pitch.
Mancini, like many Italian managers, emphasizes tactics over physical attributes. This is precisely why he Barry has kept his place in a team where much more expensive and flashier footballers are fighting just to see minimal pitch time. Barry’s positioning sense, good distribution and on the pitch leadership skills have helped to prove that Joey Barton’s analysis of the player was substantially off target.