It still hurts
Isn’t karma a wonderful thing?
A full season has passed and it is only now that I can bring myself to talk about Gareth Barry as another team’s player.
A full season has passed and I still begrudge his decision to jump ship aboard the diamond crusted Man City short term express: a non-historic, undignified, dishonourable voyage, set to implode prematurely and have a damaging effect on the unsuccessful club in its long term history.
A full season has passed, but am I still pathetically bitter? You bet.
Because, as an Aston Villa fan, there generally isn’t much to cheer about. As an Aston Villa fan, its hard not to laugh when our most loyal servant, our prized possession, takes his stock and pays homage to the devil – only to be bit in the ass.
Gareth Barry wrote in his open letter to Villa fans:
“I feel the club is in the best position it has been in during my time here, I think we have a group of very good young players, we have a fantastic chairman who is here for the good of the club and one of the best managers in the game.”
And do you know what? I couldn’t agree more. For the first time in 12 years, Villa have looked like a challenging outfit. For the first time in 12 years, Villa have beaten United, travelled twice to Wembley and fought for Champions League football for 37 games. The club is undoubtedly in its best position since the age of Gareth Barry, supported by the exciting potential of our blooming crop of players and the productive O’Neill-Lerner relationship. But hang on… then why on earth is our former captain abandoning the club’s most thrilling, most realistic project, since his time, at the peak of its promises?
“After changing my mind lots of times I came to the decision that the time was right for me and for the club to part company.”
I can understand why he would think the time was right for the club to let our number 6 go, because we clearly had a readymade (dare I say it: more prosperous) replacement in the outstanding James Milner at hand. However, I would have plenty of assured reservations if someone was to argue that anyone at the club agreed that the time was right to move on (of course it wasn’t: would I still be crying about it a year later if it was?). A 28 year old Barry, accompanied by the dynamic James Milner at the heart of our midfield, could easily have been worth 6 extra points for the Villains throughout the course of a 9 month season (6 points which would have kept us rubbing shoulders with Spurs). And when a player goes from international zero to hero under the guidance of a new club manager, it’s certainly difficult to understand (and forgive) how he would think the time is right to turn his back on the club he is indebted to.
“I need a new challenge, I have a massive fear of going stale and falling into a comfort zone.”
Okay… maybe the Hastings-born player found the idea of a Champions League challenge with Aston Villa a tad too mundane. Maybe he was bored of playing at Wembley in claret and blue (he had done it 10 years earlier afterall). But on a serious note, he had clearly been underestimating the value of our current players. He was taking his place in our first XI for granted and rated himself comfortably higher than club captain and 08-09 player of the year, Petrov and 09-10 player of the year, James Milner. To say he was in a comfort zone at Villa, who would have, on merit, two more deserving players to start ahead of Barry in this current season, is to disrespect not only our best players, but to undermine our club and its aims.
“I feel I am joining a club that will seriously challenge to win major honours, people might doubt that, but I am convinced with the plans the club has short term and long term, and the backing the manager will receive from the owners, that we will be a major force.”
Yes, Gareth Barry was joining a club with riches unheard of – but he was moving to a midtable team who hadn’t acquired silverware in 33 years and who have and will always be crippled living in the shadow of their city rivals. On top of this, of the competitions (major honours) Man City entered this year, it was in fact Aston Villa who prevailed most likely to secure medals in qualifying for the final stages of both the League Cup and FA Cup and with almost identical league campaigns and an equal Europa League fate, is GB really better off in a sky blue shirt? What is more embarrassing for the England international is that the manager who convinced him to move, the manager he chose ahead of Martin O’Neill, the manager he trusted to ignore the attentions of title challengers Liverpool for, the manager he believed would receive the right backing from the club’s owners was sacked in December of that same year – a real case of humble pie for City’s number 18.
“Also the World Cup has always been a major part of my thinking and I feel at Man City I will get the chance to play regularly in my best position and play a big part in a successful side.”
I wonder if Barry put any thought at all into this letter of “apology”. To be frank, it’s more insulting to Villa fans than it is anything else. For one, it was Martin O’Neill who made Gareth the player he was – it was MON who converted him into a quality Centre Midfielder and it was under O’Neill that Barry finally established himself in the England set up (like a number of other players in the squad did). By claiming that the national team had a “major part” in his thinking to transfer aleigances goes a long way to losing any respect my once favourite player had from yours truly. It is also laughable that the current 29 year old attempted to excuse his decision to move as an opportunity to play regularly in his favourite position. I suppose over 40 games a year in the heart of midfield for Villa just wasn’t enough. And it does bring a beaming smile to my face when I see how the recent Italian system at City is doing nothing but spoiling Gareth Barry who is now instructed to hold the midfield along with Viera and De Jong and thus suffocating the England man’s creative ability. And just to ensure that egg is planted firmly on the face of Villa’s modern day Judas, I want to once again quote his desire to, “play a big part in a successful side.”
Of Man City’s league goals this year, Gazza B has set-up or scored just 12.5% of them. That means he is directly responsible for just an eigth of the team’s goals in a game which usually consists of only 6 front players (midfielders and forwards). In his final season for Villa however, he was attributed to almost fifth of the Midlands club’s scores. Of course it is harder for a CM to affect change in such a direct manner (well, it isn’t so hard for Milner…) and control and key passes are much more evident in Barry’s game than a final ball, but it is shockingly easier to recognise that Gareth Barry played a much bigger part for Aston Villa than he does for City. Over the years, there have been some suggestions that he was a ‘big fish in a small pond’, but in his leap to Manchester, Barry has certainly not landed in an ocean, a river or even a bigger pond: he has instead hopped into the next door neighbour’s puddle and found that he has served only to take a backseat in a less succesful ride.
Maybe Manchester City’s ridiculous spending spree could dividens sometime in the future. They have already spent over £200m on top class players in a bid to cheat their way into league contention, but having failed so dramatically, they have ended up as the laughing stock of the football world (this year, at least). Nevertheless, the worry for Gareth Barry is that with the extraordinary wealth of City’s owners, an influx of extravagant names is always going to be their aim and with the current team deemed worthy of just a Europa League position, the impatient Arabs should have another Summer shake up on the cards. Attempting to lure the likes of Kaka to Eastlands, Sheikh Mansour gives the impression of a man playing a computer game trying to create a superstar line-up – a line-up in which an ageing, unglamorous Gareth Barry could well find himself on the fringes of very soon.
Sheikh Mansour is trying to play Fantasy Football with unlimited funds
“Time will tell if I am right or not, but those are my reasons.”
At the time, I knew that time would tell us if Gareth was right to move on – I just didn’t think that we would have our answer so soon. Having turned down a record 70k-a-week offer from Villa, Barry’s only reward for desrting O’Neill has been a couple of unnecessary thousands of pounds in his payslip at the end of each month. Barry’s form has decreased in direct correlation with his club’s aspirations and as undignified as I may sound, I can’t help but think that his fresh ankle injury, so close to the World Cup, is the price to pay for selling his soul. Now, we could actually see his Villa successor (Milner) take his place on the England team and surpass the 29 year old in both club and international football – and doing so playing for the team Barry deemed unworthy of his services.
“Time will tell if I am right or not…” 12 months on, 1 season passed, and a Barry-less Aston Villa have not only matched the Citizens’ league form, but they have gone one better in challenging for major honours.
A full season has passed and Gareth Barry must be wondering “what if”… had he stayed.
A full season has passed, and another year on Barry’s biological clock has ticked with the Sky-Blues looking for fresh faces.
A full season has passed and James Milner has propelled himself as a household name, ready to oust his former leader from the national side.
A full season has passed and deep down inside, Gareth Barry must surely already regret his decision to leave Aston Villa.