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The key to longevity isn’t just health;

It also helps to be enduringly useful.

The comforting ever-presence of Gareth BarryOf the players to have made 500 or more Premier League appearances, only one is still an active player in the league, and on Saturday he broke through the 600-game barrier. Gareth Barry has taken to the pitch in more Premier League matches than any of his current peers, and is expected to seize the record appearances bauble from Ryan Giggs sometime next season.

Like an old clock on the mantle, barely glanced at and never polished, Barry’s metronomic ticking has nonetheless been a comforting presence in the background noise of the English top flight for nearly two decades.

It’s easy to forget that his a career no only remarkable in its length; he has won both of England’s major club tournaments: a league title and FA Cup with Manchester City sit proudly next the Intertoto Cup winners medal he earned with Aston Villa.

Is it in spite of his distinct lack of flash, his unremarkableness as a player, or because of it, that Barry has carved out the Premier League’s most perennial career? Certainly his reaction after his 600th game, one in which he scored an excellent goal, was dripping in pure mundanity: “Yeah, you know, it was great to get a goal, obviously the win’s more important than that, but to be on the scoresheet too makes it an even more memorable day” Barry stated flatly. Gareth, please, control yourself, you’re clearly overcome with emotion.

At first, during the post-match press conference, Everton manager Ronald Koeman seemed only to wave a passing congratulatory hand at Barry’s achievement. “Yes, it’s amazing the number of games that Gareth has played, but even today he showed himself to be a perfect player for the team.” Koeman said. “And even scoring the 1-1, it’s an important moment for the team. It was a special day for Gareth, and even more special that he scored today. And the team was winning, and that’s still the most important for today.”

He was then asked about, and spoke at length in response to, a question on Ross Barkley. As if to sum up the inconspicuous demeanour of Barry’s career, here the dazzle of Barkley almost immediately eclipsed Barry’s less lustrous presence, even if the former City midfielder’s role in the team is just as important. That might have been that, a small ceremony honouring a titanic achievement, but no, Koeman returned to Barry, and gave him the genuine praise he deserved on that day, talking about his footballing virtues, his place in the team, and what Everton must do to get the very best out of their veteran going forward:

“It’s always important to have a balance in your squad. Young players, experienced players; and we know from Gareth – football wise – he’s one of the most clever players on the pitch, and you need that. If the team is compact, if he [Barry] doesn’t need to run a lot of distance between the lines, then he can play two years more than this season, OK.” “But we need to support him; he can’t do all the training sessions that the rest will do. But if we keep the boy fit, it’s important for the team.”

At 35, Barry is hardly a boy, to be sure, but it really must be reasserted just how important it is having the veteran, the league’s deepest reserve of experience standing beside Barkley, the league’s most flighty native product.

Of the players who have made 500 or more Premier League appearances, what stands out the most is the presence of multiple journeymen on that list. Frank Lampard and Giggs – the two players ahead of whom Barry aims to jump, seizing the record himself – were both superstar attackers in the league, sure, but the likes of Gary Speed, David James, Emile Heskey, and Australia’s own Mark Schwarzer are all there too, just below Barry, all of them players who made the rounds to four or more Premier League clubs during their careers. Transcendent players these men were not, but employed? You bet.

Of the 20 Premier League seasons Barry has taken part in, there have been only two in which he has made less than 30 league appearances, one of them being his very first at Villa in 1997-98. There will always be a place for a reliable holding midfielder in the league, particularly one as thoughtful on the ball as Barry. Having never been a particularly athletic player, Barry had to hone his senses from the start, anticipating the flow of the play, navigating the constantly shifting environment of a Premier League midfield like a great vulture must the rise and fall of the thermal jet-streams in an Arizona canyon. The old buzzard won’t win in a speed-race with some of the younger, glossier falcons, but there’s still life in those dusty feathers, and no small amount of nous.

Under Roberto Martinez, it seemed like Barry was competing with the former Everton manager’s one-man-defensive dismantling project. Under the much more defensively responsible Koeman, Barry’s skills should be cradled by the system, maximised, refreshed. Another season, or two, and the Premier League appearances record seems well within reach.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Evan Morgan Grahame
Blog: wildwordsofsport.com, Twitter: @WWofSport
for Outside 90, Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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