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Gareth Barry on Manchester City, yoga and delaying retirement plans
Former England midfielder doing rehab at West Bromwich Albion
Last Updated: 13/08/19 4:48pm
Gareth Barry is out of contract with the season underway but the former England midfielder has no plans to retire just yet. Adam Bate caught up with him to discuss the changes that he has seen in his long career and what is driving him on to continue...
The English football season kicked off as it always does but with a difference. There was no Gareth Barry involved this time. The man who has made more Premier League appearances than anyone else finally dropped out of the top flight to play in the Championship for West Brom last season, but now he is without a club. And still there are no plans to retire.
It already feels like Barry has been around forever. A former team-mate of current England manager Gareth Southgate, this is a player who went to a major tournament - Euro 2000 - before Chelsea boss Frank Lampard. At an age when many of his peers are embarking upon a coaching career, the 38-year-old midfielder remains focused on playing the game.
"I haven't really thought about coaching and I haven't done my badges because I don't want to take my eye off my playing career," Barry tells Sky Sports. "I think while you are still enjoying it, the motivation is there. I am still very competitive when I am out there training. The motivation comes easily for me and I have never found training hard work.
"I have found it a bit strange being out of contract and not involved when the season kicks off but that's where I am at the moment. I am working hard to get my knee right, doing rehab at West Brom. I just need to get fit. I am sure that if I do so I will be capable of doing what I have been doing for the last 20 years. Hopefully I have got one more season in me."
Barry never was the quickest, so - as the familiar theory goes - he doesn't have much pace to lose anyway. His strengths are the same as they were in his prime when he was winning 53 England caps and a Premier League title with Manchester City. He reads the game well, he makes good decisions with and without the ball, and he passes to his team-mates.
Even so, it doesn't get any easier as the years tick by. Fortunately, Barry continues to give himself every chance. "I bought into yoga at quite an early age," he explains. "I always give these things a try. If there is a chance these things will improve you then there is no point just watching other people do it. You either go with these things or you get left behind."
To illustrate the generational change that Barry has played through, last season he featured in a Football League Trophy game against Macclesfield in which all but one of his outfield colleagues were not even born when he made his professional debut. That first Aston Villa squad included characters such as Stan Collymore, Paul Merson and Mark Bosnich.
"There are so many things that have changed," says Barry. "The social media side is a big thing these days. There is so much you need to be careful of and learn about as a player.
"Professionalism is a massive one. As a kid now you are taught everything right from the start about what's good for your recovery. When I started you were pretty much learning along the way. There weren't sports scientists and three or four physios. There certainly weren't three or four masseurs getting you right for training and right again afterwards."
Few clubs have undergone a more dramatic change in that time than Manchester City, the club he joined amid some acrimony in the summer of 2009. The money was just starting to flow into the club at that time but the trophies had yet to arrive. As a result, the transfer to a team that had just finished below them in the table went down badly with Villa fans.
Barry's decision was vindicated in time.
"I knew at the time that it was a gamble and I took a lot of bad press," he says. "You need to take those decisions even though you cannot predict the future. The people I spoke to at Manchester City set out that the direction of the club and the ambition was there. There were big plans for the training ground and I felt they would sign players and win trophies.
"I had a tough year or two feeling the heat of not winning a trophy straight away, but I won the FA Cup and the Premier League and finished up having four great seasons with City. It was great to be part of the team that broke the duck of winning trophies and they have made massive strides since then too. It is a club that is taking over Europe and the world."
A return to the Etihad Stadium as a visiting player is unlikely barring a fortunate cup draw. The chance to add to his record 653 Premier League appearances is not expected. But there is another little statistical quirk that Barry is expecting to enjoy. If he does earn a new contract for the coming season, he will enter his fourth decade as a professional footballer.
"That's a little target for myself," he says. "There is a chance that the knee won't be right and I will have to think about finishing but I am staying positive. Finishing on an injury is not the way I want to finish. Everyone says play as long as possible so if there is a chance that I can get back to a standard that I feel good at then why not give it a try?"
Gareth Barry was speaking at The FA & McDonald's Grassroots Awards National Ceremony. The awards reward the volunteers who keep the grassroots game going. To participate in the Fun Football programme, go to mcdonalds.co.uk/FunFootball