Don’t sweat the loss of Gareth Barry. Don’t shed a tear and don’t get all emotional and toss around words such as betrayal and abandonment. Sure, he’s guilty of both. But so what? What, exactly, did he do this season to provoke such a furious reaction?
The stats sheet says he scored eight goals in 48 appearances for Aston Villa. Not a bad return for a playmaking midfielder. Only two of those goals came in 2009, however, and both were penalties.
Barry’s last goal in open play in all competitions came in a 3-2 win at home to Blackburn Rovers on October 29. Villa were flying high at that point, and would do so for about another month. Then the wheels came off, and the former captain was nowhere to be found.
For much of the season’s second half, Villa’s was one of the most penetrable midfields in the Premier League. The career-ending injury to Martin Laursen was often cited as the primary reason for the sudden defensive vulnerability, and Martin O’Neill came in for a good dose of criticism after adjusting his tactics following the disastrous acquisition of Emile Heskey.
But Barry, more than anyone else in the team, was absolutely dreadful in the final five months of the campaign. Five months is a long time to be dreadful, and I doubt either O’Neill or owner Randy Lerner were all that put out by his sudden exit on June 2. Quite the contrary, I suspect. Twelve million quid is hardly a bad return for a player who was such a vital part of a monumental collapse.
But is Barry a villain? (No pun intended.) Hardly. At 28, he was overdue for a change of scenery after 12 years at Villa Park. He’s also nearly doubled his wages. Good luck to him. At City he’ll join the finest mish-mash of second-rate stars that Arab oil money can buy. That description fits him to a tee. He’ll fit in perfectly.
Barry’s exit was never about loyalty to Villa or a chance to join a Champions’ League contender. It was about getting in on the ground floor of something that, two or three years from now, might prove rather exciting. It was also about money. And no one should begrudge him that.
At the end of the day, Barry spent 12 years at a club where he was a half-decent player, but never a superstar. He put in an honest effort, but rarely delivered anything spectacular. In other words, he was not the kind of player who comes around maybe once or twice in a generation. He was very replaceable. And I, for one, won’ miss him the slightest.