Date: 14th October 2007 at 6:32pm
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Gareth Barry: Midfielder extraordinary.

Why extraordinary? – Because he does his job simply and assuredly and makes the game look simple – which is what the game should be about in my opinion, and has oft been said for eons. But for those who think his simplicity in fact makes him an inferior player, let them observe the sweet 180-degree turns to avoid opponents before planting the ball to the feet of someone better placed.

I’ve already seen the phrase ‘pinging passes’ used by journalists to describe his passing. And doesn’t he do it well, whether short or long passes? Rarely does a pass go astray, and virtually all his passes are perfectly delivered. But, of course, there’s another dimension to his play: his defensive qualities. How often do we see him tracking back to cover the defenders, a job well-learnt from his days as a central-defender and left-back. And, again, doing that job well.

There’s an extraordinarily under-stated aspect of his development into his role of midfield general; he made the transition from being a forgotten England left-back. How many players can we think of that have made that extraordinary move from defender into midfielder at the international level? I have thought of just one – Jimmy Crabtree. And, of course, the amazing thing is that he also was a star Villa player, and I understand that even until the Second World War his name was still on people’s lips as the greatest-ever all-round player. When he came to the Villa from Burnley in those far-off 1890’s days, he had only played at full-back, but Villa were then well-endowed with full-backs, and they moved him to the half-back line, at wing-half. And there he seamlessly resumed his international status, though he subsequently flittered between defence and midfield. He, like Barry, also occasionally played in the forward line.

Barry’s move from defence to midfield with England was not quite as easy as Crabtree’s, but that is undoubtedly because Barry has had his trials under different managers, and was frequently switched around, until the arrival of Martin O’Neill. Though Barry has still had to deputise at left-back at club level, he has been made club skipper and his main job has been established in midfield. Hence his triumphant re-entry into the England team.

“There’s at least one other former Villa player that went through a successful metamorphosis – one Gareth Southgate. An extraordinary move by Brian Little to convert him to central defence from midfield made him Villa’s most capped England player, though he did not play for England as a midfielder. Another wonderful conversion was Allan Evans (attack to central-defence).”

So there we are – it just proves that there’s life after metamorphosis! I must try it!