It has been eight years since Gareth Barry left Villa Park for the riches and razzmatazz of Manchester City, where the midfielder became a Premier League winner in 2012. However, now the 36-year-old is being linked with a move back to the club that he represented for over a decade. Initially, the thought of Barry’s return, was ecstatically received by Villa fans. But in reality, romantic football decisions rarely work out (Alan Shearer’s short management of Newcastle springs to mind). So are Villa fans deluding themselves that Barry’s return would be a coup for the club? Or in fact, could a reunion prove to be a mutually beneficial deal for both Barry and Villa?
Firstly, it is key to highlight that Gareth Barry will turn 37 next February. The fact that the Championship is such a gruelling slog for nine months is quite possibly, the most tired cliché in football, and Barry would struggle to play twice a week next season. Therefore, the former Villa captain would have to be rotated, something that could hurt Villa’s team chemistry, especially in a vital position like centre-midfield. Barry’s selection could well come at the expense of one of Villa’s more attacking midfield options, something the team cannot afford. One of Villa’s biggest problems last year was a lack of creativity from midfield, and it could be counterproductive to start Barry over Conor Hourihane or Birkir Bjarnason. Barry may offer defensive solidity, but he will rarely create chances in the opposition’s half.
At times last year, Villa looked slow and often moved the ball without pace or purpose. Again, Barry has many qualities, but quickly spraying passes across the pitch is not one of those. The Everton midfielder is often suited to possession-based sides, a system not readily seen at Villa Park under Steve Bruce’s reign. Barry is a superb defensive midfielder, who breaks up opposition attacks and offers his central defenders some much needed cover. The problem for Villa is they already have this player – Mile Jedinak. Arguably, the Australian international is better suited than Barry, to the blood and thunder type games of the Championship. Finally, Barry will most likely become one of the squads’ highest earners should he sign this summer. Not ideal for a club who are still trying to adapt financially, to life out of the Premier League.
At this point it would be completely understandable if you thought I am against the idea of Aston Villa signing Gareth Barry this summer. Yet, in fact, I am completely in favour of the transfer, but as you can guess from the previous two paragraphs, I do not believe he is a perfect solution without problem. Perhaps it is my heart overruling my head, but I think Barry can offer Villa something next season.
First and foremost, Barry is a quality player, despite his age. The midfielder was a regular in Ronald Koeman’s team for the majority of this season, and played 33 League games in 2016/17, proving he can play regular football. His technical ability and impressive endurance have seen him become the second highest Premier League appearance holder, just a few shy of Ryan Giggs’ record. Barry has played over 800 matches of senior football, and he has the experience and knowhow which could prove invaluable next season.
The Everton man is also a battler, something which is necessary in the Championship. He’s not afraid to give away a foul or earn a booking for the team. Plain and simply, Barry is a leader, something which Villa lack. As previously mentioned, Barry is a player suited to playing in a possession-based side. Although Villa did tend to play a slightly more direct style last year, it may be partly due to the absence of technically proficient midfielders. We all hope Villa will be near the top of the table next season, and therefore will likely experience much higher levels of possession in the 2017/18 campaign.
Villa’s midfield is in need of an upgrade, as unfortunately the likes of Gary Gardner and Leandro Bacuna are plainly not good enough. As well as Jedinak ended the season, he endured indifferent spells throughout the campaign. Barry is also a much more technically-gifted player than the former Crystal Palace captain. Personally, I believe Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury will only improve with Barry alongside them in centre-midfield. As mentioned previously, Barry will not be able to play every league game, but really who can? The nature of the Championship means sides must rotate their squads. Let’s hope that Villa will be in a position to rest players against weaker opposition next season.
Most importantly, Barry knows Aston Villa Football Club inside out. He knows the club’s history and was part of Villa’s most successful era this century. He is a model professional who gave his all for the side during a 12-year stint at Villa Park. At 36-years-old, Barry would likely come relatively cheap, especially with just a year remaining on his contract. The midfielder has recently expressed his fondness for Villa and was in attendance at Stiliyan Petrov’s fundraiser earlier this month, as were a number of the current Villa squad. Barry has also admitted that most of his friends live in the Birmingham area, and therefore a return to the West Midlands could well suit the midfielder. A return for Barry could provide Villa fans the opportunity to reconcile with the man they’ve booed for the past eight years. It could prove a fitting end for Barry’s career if he were to assist Villa in their hour of need, and help the team gain promotion. A potential reunion between Barry and Villa could cement his status as the club’s greatest player in the Premier League era.
Let’s be realistic of what Barry could offer Villa. He will not play 46 games next season, make dynamic, attacking runs or score a hatful of goals. What Barry does offer is a calm head and the ability to excellently keep possession. If the former Villa man was to return next year, his role could be simple; do the dirty, gritty work that is vital in the Championship, and allows others the chance to play attacking football. Eight years after his contentious exit from Villa Park, a return for Barry could prove to be a vital piece of the puzzle, which could help Villa gain promotion next season.
Ultimately this entire article could prove to be irrelevant if Barry does remain at Goodison Park next season, but it is an interesting debate nonetheless.