Gareth Barry: Football's Mr. Marmite?

By Michael Hammond, Sun 15 January 2012 18:28

Gareth Barry: Football's Mr. Marmite?

A plaintive voice rings loud into the night sky, "For Christ sake Barry, DO something!" For the second successive home game City are heading for defeat. Liverpool, having taken a deserved early lead, sit deeper and settle in for the night.

Dalglish, looking on at a midfield of Barry, De Jong, Milner and Johnson is content to relinquish territory and remain compact. The onus is on the blues to break through the red wall, but a string of sideways passing leads to further frustration in the stands.

Gareth Barry is a curiosity, seemingly underrated and overrated at the same time. To his supporters, of whom the two most prominent are Italian, he is an integral part of the team and the foundations on which championships can be built. For his critics, he symptomises all that is wrong with the British game, one paced and technically deficient.

The Brighton born midfielder polarises opinion. His stock seemingly has more ups and downs than Ryan Giggs' backside. Going into the 2010 World Cup, Fabio Capello was so desperate to include him in the squad that the England coach delayed naming his final 24 until the day before the team's departure to South Africa.

It was not to be a successful campaign. England foundered in the veld, and in Bloemfontein they were demolished by a superior Germany. The three Lions were left licking their wounds as Özil and Müller cut them to shreds. Many in the media pointed to Lampard and Barry and made direct and unflattering comparisons.

The next to sound off about Barry was the ever loveable Joey Barton, the darling of twitter, with a million followers and two convictions for serious violence. Barton likened Özil and Barry to the hare and the tortoise and claimed he had his agent to thank for his success.

Yet since Roberto Mancini took charge of the Citizens in December 2009, his team have played 22 times against what could be deemed our top 5 challengers (Utd, Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea). Barry has missed only 2 of those games, once to suspension and once to injury. He is the pivot which holds the team in place.

When the team needs a big performance, he plays. He patrols the midfield with an elegance that belies his size. His passing is often underrated as we have become blasé about his accuracy and decision making. But more than that is his positional ability.

I sit in the East Stand Level 3, and from there the game looks ridiculously easy. You can see the patterns of play emerging as the game and the players ebb and flow. It's apparent where the holes in the team are, and just as I prepare to shout out a warning (they can hear me!) Barry beats me too it. A timely interception here, and repositioning there is often all thats needed to break up attacks. This is where he excels.

He's not only there for the nasty things in life though. Playing in a team with the riches of Agüero, Balotelli, Silva and Nasri has enabled Barry to be more forward thinking. The movement of our front 4, and the pace of the full backs has opened up avenues that he will gladly supply. His range of passing is ideally suited to the current team, either short, swift and to feet, or long out to the wings.

So, are Joey and the bloke behind me right? What does he do?

To me, Barry is the conductor, the man who sets the rhythm and the tempo. The maestro who knows how to get the best out of those in front of him. Just like the man with the baton though, he is only as good as the players in the orchestra. With that in mind I've come to the conclusion that both views are right.

In a lesser team, or one misfiring he can seem superfluous and redundant. In these cases what he can't do becomes who he is. But in a great team, with a stellar supporting cast, he will elevate them and take them to levels they weren't aware they could reach.