Gareth Barry splits opinion with Villa fans, but the former Aston Villa captain deserves praise as he retires as the Premier League’s record appearance holder.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Former Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry has today announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 39.
The midfielder leaves the game as the record Premier League appearance holder after a 12-year spell at Aston Villa, before playing for Manchester City and Everton. His career appearances span over 800, but the games that gift him this record, 653 of them, will offer fans of all clubs above some fond memories.
Barry joined as a scholar from Brighton & Hove Albion in 1997 and made his professional debut for Aston Villa just a year later in a 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday as he was subbed into the fray – replacing Ian Taylor in the 49th minute.
He featured in all-important games for the Villans. starting in the 2000 FA Cup Final loss against Chelsea, and the 5-2 win against FC Basel in the 2001 UEFA Intertoto Cup Final.
Six years later, and Barry had spent ten years at the club and Villa’s brass were reportedly thinking of offering the maverick midfielder a testimonial at the age of 26 to recognise a decade of service to the claret and blue. In 2008, Barry was approaching 400 total appearances for the club and just a few months prior had become the youngest player to make 300 Premier League appearances, passing former record-holder Frank Lampard.
Things did, however, begin to turn sour in 2008.
Aston Villa rejected multiple bids from Liverpool; and Barry publicly criticised manager Martin O’Neill for ‘keeping him at the club’, before he continued to publicly state his desire to compete in the Champions League. The club rejected bids as high as £15,000,000 for Barry and were said to be holding out for £18,000,000. Following Barry’s public outcry, he was stripped of the captaincy, banned from training and fined two weeks wages.
Gareth Barry remained a Villan for another season, making 441 appearances overall for the club and becoming the only Premier League-era player to be listed in the club’s top ten all-time appearances leaders.
And then, he left. Fans labelled him a ‘Judas’ as he moved to Manchester City – who had just finished four places below Aston Villa – in search of Champions League football (in hindsight, a good move). His services cost the Citizens a £12,000,000 fee.
Barry penned an open letter to the Birmingham Mail, now Birmingham Live, thanking the Aston Villa fans for their support and stating that his move to City was a ‘new challenge’.
The midfield maestro made 53 appearances for the Three Lions, with the majority of these during his time at Aston Villa. The man personified a “classy” player, and he showcased this on many an occasion in claret and blue.
It’s a shame his legacy was tarnished somewhat for Aston Villa fans – because he epitomises a club legend.