Amongst the millions of pounds lavished on the cream of the European crop there actually may be a few bargains to be had if you look a little closer to home. With the powers that be at Manchester City flashing the cash to bring in top talent, such as Fernandinho and Jesus Navas, to launch a new assault on Manchester United’s domestic crown, players like Gareth Barry have been pushed to the sides to pave way for the new order. Barry himself was one of the initial wave of sheikh backed transfers to join City in the Summer of 2009, for a reported fee of £12 million, but it now seems like his services may no longer be required on a regular basis and may look to pursue interest from elsewhere in a bid for first team football. With Arsenal being heavily linked in the British press, could Barry be a high quality potential recruitment not just for them but any aspiring club facing a fight for European Football next season?
At the age of 32 Barry is approaching the latter stages of his career but with the likes of Steven Gerrard, 33, and Frank Lampard, 35, showing that age is no limit for the modern footballer he still could have a few more seasons at the top level left in his legs. Barry is an experienced international player, with 53 caps for England, and has been part of the Manchester City Midfield since 2009. In that time he racked up 132 Premier League appearances and featured in both of Manchester City’s, fairly disastrous, Champions League campaigns. He does, however, have both an FA cup and Premier League winners medal to his name. He offers genuine experience to any club willing to take the gamble on an older player, as he was part of Manchester City’s initial push for Champions League football before becoming an integral part of the title winning team of 2011/12. The paper rumor mill puts his price at around £4 million, which with the new TV deal is nothing to most clubs, but with wages approaching the six figure mark it would be hard pressed to find few clubs that could afford his services. However, for clubs pushing for champions league football and more, such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, he may just be within reach.
Gareth Barry: A look back at previous two years
The 2012/13 campaign was not a successful campaign for Barry or anyone associated with Manchester City football club as they failed to even put up a decent fight in the defence of their Premier League trophy. Barry also found that he had more competition in midfield with the acquisitions of Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia. This resulted in a reduction in the amount of first team appearances, with a total of 31 starts and 3 substitute appearances in 2011/12 to 27 starts and 4 substitute appearances in 2012/13. It is hard to nail down a defined position for Gareth Barry as he is not really a specialized, well, anything. He does not have the box to box nature the likes of Toure or Gerrard of yesteryear, he is not a dedicated defensive midfielder or deep lying play maker. Rather he is a ‘platform’ player that team’s can build their midfield and team around knowing that he will do a solid 7/8 out of ten no matter what role he has to fill yet he will never truly excel at any particular skill set. In 2011/12 Barry often found himself playing alongside the muscular Yaya Toure in a more withdrawn defensive role, or Nigel De Jong as a paired screen for the back four and acting as a base for the more forward thinking flair players ahead of him. Yet in 2012/13 he found himself alongside the more defensively orientated Garcia and, therefore, had more license to be more involved higher up the field, especially when City shifted into a 5-3-2 formation.
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Barry’s defensive contribution decreased from 2011/12 to 2012/13. As mentioned before this could be due to playing alongside Yaya Toure in 11/12 where he would have had more defensive responsibilities. Yet, despite being involved in fewer ground 50-50 challenges Barry’ tackles success rate improved by 9.1%. On top of this Barry was dribbled past 10 fewer times in only a total of 342 fewer minutes of football. Worryingly though he was unable to keep up an impressive interception every 38.04 minutes of football played as this dropped to one every 54.48 minutes. Both these stats could have been impacted by the change in Barry’s 2012/13 role.
As the slightly more advanced midfielder, knowing he had the protective cover of Garcia behind him, he was able to move forward into the midfield battle resulting in less space for individuals to dribble past him, but more opportunities to pass the ball around him into the space left behind him. This meant that he was not able to pick up as many loose balls aimed towards the forwards and rather his interceptions were less plentiful but could be more hurtful to the opposition. Furthermore, with Barry having a higher tackling percentage in 12/13 it could be theorised that individuals were unable to get past him as easily as he used his experience to take the ball off them. One final footnote should be that it is often seen that age can creep up on professional footballers, with pace one of the first attributes to decline, so perhaps Barry was unable to gamble on as many interceptions in 2012/13 as he was unsure of his ability to get there was the same as the year before.
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A comparison of Barry’s passing and creativity statistics also highlights Barry’s midfield duties evolving into a more advanced role than the previous year. Despite making fewer attacking passes, mainly due to playing fewer minutes, it is interesting that Barry played more final third passes at a 4% higher accuracy than the year before. This culminated in Barry creating an open play chance, including assist and clear-cut chances, every 60 minutes in 12/13 compared to 83 in 11/12, a massive 23 minutes difference.
Gareth Barry: How does he compare to others?
What these statistics show is that on one level, it can be seen that Barry’s defensive performances have declined whilst his offensive performances have increased. The reason behind this could be due to his development as a player, but at the age of 32 it is doubtful, or the expansion of this role at Manchester City from a defensive ‘platform’ to a more offensive one. I still refer to Barry as a ‘platform’ player here simply because he does not fulfil the usual criteria associated with a true defensive midfielder, strong, powerful with bundles of energy, rather he uses his skill and experience to suit the needs of the team. Similarly as a more offensive player he is still a platform for attacks to build but lacks the true flair and finesse of a true attacking midfielder. This does showcase Barry’s versatility but also highlights a weakness, his ability to play as part of a two man midfield. As part of a three he can shine alongside a more defensive player and a more attacking player and can be the central clog in the machine fulfilling both attacking and defensive roles on a needs must basis, but in a two he doesn’t have any stand out qualities to really make his mark on a game. Yet with the majority of the top teams in European and domestic football playing a variation of the 4-3-3 formation there is still plenty of opportunity for Barry to shine at other clubs. The question is how does he compare to other players playing a similar position at those clubs?
The players chosen for this comparison were players that fulfilled a similar role to Barry during the 12/13 season. Obviously, as managers play different systems with different requirements these cannot be exact. For example, Carrick plays a more expansive playmaker role in a 4-4-1-1 formation at Manchester United whereas Mikel much more a defensive midfielder yet they’re inclusion add significant comparison points to the attributes of Gareth Barry. Also to make interpretation easier, the top ranked and bottom ranked performance indicator is highlighted in green and red respectively.
At a quick glance, the figures above do not seem to fall too favourably for Gareth Barry, with Barry topping none of the categories. He only betters the average of the group in both tackle success and dribbled pasts with all the other key performance values falling below the average value. Yet, this was when he was playing a more expansive role when you compare his performances in the more defensive minded 2011/12 season then you can see that Barry’s much improved defensive performances mean that he is within 10% of the average in the majority of his key performance indicators.
Again, this just highlights that Barry is simply a ‘good’ player nothing spectacular in the defensive department, unlike Dembele, but rather is perfectly capable of doing an adequate job for a team. This is emphasized when compared to the performances of Mikel Arteta of Arsenal who is performing to a slightly lower level than Barry in terms of tackling frequency, tackle success and the amount of times he has been dribbled past. Arteta does appear to be a more adapt reader of the game, performing an intercept every 8.5 minutes more than Barry.
Creativity: Barry compared to rivals
Again Barry shows off his ability to be a ‘good’ not great creative player with him not excelling in any particular category but beingwithin 10% of the average for the group, (the average for the OPCC per min is skewed by Mikel). Also, similarly to the defensive statistics, an interesting comparison between Barry and Arteta emerges, with Arteta pipping Barry in the majority of the creativity stats except in each player’s ability to create chances for teammates, with Barry creating a chance almost twice as often as Arteta does. This is telling that despite Arteta being more active in the oppositions final 3rd, it is Barry who is the more efficient in creating goal scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Gareth Barry: Where would he fit he?
For me there is only one answer to this, with Chelsea and Manchester United both looking to reinforce their midfield with players in the upper end of the transfer market then it only leaves the three aspiring clubs of Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. Liverpool themselves have an abundance of young energetic midfielders to partner Gerrard in midfield and, personally, I don’t believe that Gareth Barry would suit the style of play that Brendan Rodgers is attempting to implement on Merseyside and Barry does not fit into the signing profile, Kolo Toure not withstanding, that FSG are attempting to bring in.
Down at White Hart Lane, Tottenham are set to welcome £17 millions pounds worth of Brazilian in the shape of Pauliniho to become part of a midfield consisting of Sandro and Dembele. As seen from above, Dembele steals the shows as one of the leagues top midfielders and with Scott Parker lurking in the background, alongside Livermore and Huddlestone, as back up’s for Sandro, Dembele and Pauliniho it is hard to see where Barry would fit into the side.
That leaves only one natural place for him to go and that is to Arsenal Football Club. As can be seen above, Barry is very comparable to Arteta in both an offensive and defensive role, his inability to excel at both at the same time may be a slight concern, but he could provide excellent competition for the Spaniard as a part of the Arsenal midfield. More importantly he can act as cover for a wide variety of people and circumstances due to his versatility. He could be used to protect the back four alongside Arteta when Arsenal need to see a game out, he can be used to push Arteta or himself further forward and still provide a stable base for attacks to build from. He can be used as injury cover for both Wilshere and Diaby. Most importantly, he brings to Arsenal an experienced head that can manage and control the midfield, someone who has won trophies and understands what it takes to drag his team over the finish line. There are so many positives for Arsene Wenger to introduce an individual of Barry’s ilk to the squad that it would outweigh the negatives of such an older individual joining the team. Of course there will be issues with Barry’s pay package, with Arsenal notorious for sticking to their wage structure especially for someone over the age of 30. Barry is not going to be the star that light’s up the stadium on a Saturday afternoon yet he is the player that will dig deep and pull the team through to get those important three points when they are needed in the dark winter nights.
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