James Lawton: Cult of 'Gaz-Baz' would spell ruin of Barry's team spirit

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The Independent Online

Everyone who knows Gareth Barry says it will not happen, however prolonged the acclaim, but there is still the worry that he will wake up one morning soon with the conviction that he is not just a midfielder of genuine substance and fine professional instinct but also a star.

We all know the type of star. It is one who twinkles intermittently in an England team to which he belongs not because of a consistent body of work, the building of one fine performance upon another, but by right.

The concern has nothing to do with Barry's nature. His former manager Graham Taylor was saying at Wembley on Wednesday night, "He's a lovely modest, lad, and a professional right down to his boots" and his current manager, Martin O'Neill, loves his sense of team, his touch and stoic commitment. The Villa Park fans have long believed that he has been a neglected treasure, chanting "Gaz-Baz for England" as a matter of course.

No, the nag about the possible emergence of another kind of Gareth Barry is shaped rather by so many of the stark examples of a way of thinking and behaving which flies against the point of principle once underlined so memorably by the nation's one World Cup-winning manager, Sir Alf Ramsey.

It came when Geoff Hurst, the hat-trick hero of the 1966 final against West Germany, offered Ramsey a cheery farewell as the squad broke up after one of its first trips in the wake of the great triumph. "See you for the next game," said Hurst. "If selected," said his boss. Sir Geoffrey was never so presumptuous again – and nor were any of his heroic team-mates.

One of the glories of Barry – apart from the fact that he has finally made the point that Ramsey was also right when he said the art of building a winning national team was not to cherry- pick talent but to make a coherent blend of players who were naturally complementary – is that he appears to be a throwback to a time when playing for your country was something you did with pride and humility on a game-by-game basis.

You had boots and you were always ready to travel – "if selected". You didn't have some deep private debate about how well you had been treated or, as in the recent case of the now embattled David Bentley, whether you might prefer a sunshine break. You weren't elected to an exclusive club, one where the membership roll is reviewed no more frequently than at the annual meeting, if at all. You were there, ready for the call, and if the Wembley crowd booed you, as it did the '66 heroes after a goalless draw in the opening World Cup against the most cynical, ferocious defenders in the world, Uruguay, what could you do but play on and try to win the damn thing?

Contrast that self-effacing style – and the one displayed by Barry over the years during his sparse and staccato England career – with the style of a David Beckham, half-injured, commuting from California to London on the crazed project of playing two games, with 11 hours or so of air time, in less than 48 hours, one of them a friendly against Germany which would take him one step closer to his heart's desire, 100 caps for the country.

Run Barry's demeanour, also, past that of Frank Lampard, appalled at the temerity of the critics who attacked the lamentable efforts of himself and his team-mates in that last tournament? Lampard said he was entitled to more respect.

In all the years of Barry's exile from the England team – and the muddle that Sven Goran Eriksson and his successor, Steve McClaren, created in their desperate attempts to cater for the midfield requirements of such as Beckham, Lampard and Steven Gerrard, all of whom performed wretchedly in the 2004 European Championship finals – he produced not a peep of protest.

In the context of today's game there would have been sore temptation in someone less equable than the Villa man, and perhaps not least it would have come when, in the ultimate absurdity, Beckham was moved to a position in front of the back four. If there is any reassurance now, it is that Barry is unlikely to be easily jettisoned, even when Lampard and Owen Hargreaves return to fitness.

Barry, as he was against Israel a few days earlier when he assisted in two goals, was progressively huge against the Russians this week. His influence never slackened and he was markedly more effective than the talented but overstating Gerrard, who before the game announced that the current England squad was the best he had known – this on the back of a hitherto catastrophic qualifying campaign – and that the most significant moment on his own Road to Damascus had come when he scored two goals against Andorra.

The impact of Barry should not have been such a surprise to all those of us who never believed there was a compelling case for his inclusion in the team. Though he is far from showy – and even one of his warmest admirers, Taylor, admits that he lacks the change of pace which usually distinguishes sure-fire international players – he is a player of authority and excellent touch. Though the comparison is potentially burdensome, it is also true that Bobby Moore, a player of ultimate gravitas in a white shirt, could be slow to the point of loitering. However, Moore had a razored instinct for knowing where he should be at any moment. Barry, admittedly against opponents performing some way from the highest class, has shown a similar attribute and these last few days it has been easy to remember a fragment of his past.

When Aston Villa seized him from Brighton as a teenager, the aggrieved club produced expert witnesses at a tribunal called to assess his potential. One was John Giles, who knows quite a bit about what it takes to shape a midfield. He gave a resounding thumbs-up for a player who had an exceptionally wise football head on young shoulders.

Now that asset has been made plain to a much wider audience by Barry himself. It is one which, perhaps unlike the player, will not keep quiet if he should quickly find himself back in the shadows. Gareth Barry, unquestionably, has been eloquent in the place that matters most of all. He has done it on the field and his rewards should follow naturally.

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