Gareth Barry interview: Playing at 38, life in the Championship and hopes of West Brom promotion

Gareth Barry interview: Playing at 38, life in the Championship and hopes of West Brom promotion

Here is some context for how long Gareth Barry’s career has lasted: He had already made more than 50 appearances for Aston Villa by the time his midfield partner, Rekeem Harper, was born.

Harper, just 18, is not the only youngster currently in the West Brom squad. Sam Field, Jonathan Leko, Tosin Adarabioyo, Rayhaan Tulloch and Morgan Rogers are all under 21 and have featured for the Baggies this season.

It is quite the contrast from Barry, the Premier League’s record appearance holder who turned 38 last Saturday. But maybe having to battle alongside such youthful exuberance is what helps keep him young.

“I don’t treat them any differently and I hope they are the same around me,” Barry told Sky Sports ahead of his side’s clash with Leeds on Friday night. “That’s what I try to give off in my personality and I’m sure if you asked them they would give the same answer!

“I treat the young boys as I wanted to be treated when I came through at Aston Villa.”

Barry was the oldest player in the Sky Bet Championship this season until the arrival of former England team-mate Ashley Cole at Derby in January – “That’s something I don’t mind!” he joked – but there were some who thought he may have packed it all in after West Brom’s relegation from the Premier League last May.

Instead, he has relished the opportunity to play at this level for the first time.

“I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “That was my mental approach from the start of the season. It was a challenge but when you take on new challenges you have to enjoy them, and I’ve done just that.

“When you get to this age the first question you always get asked is when you are going to retire. But my answer is the same as since I turned 30, I’ll continue to take it one season at a time.

“[Routine-wise] I’m pretty much doing the same sort of thing. The only thing that may have changed is you sometimes need an extra day of recovery, but that’s where the manager helps. He understands what my body needs.

“I feel good and as long as I continue to, why not carry on?”

West Brom suffered a huge setback in their promotion ambitions last week as they fell to a 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield United. Victory would have moved them to within a point of the automatic-promotion spots, but now they are four behind the Blades and Leeds – ahead of their clash on Friday night, live on Sky Sports Football.

It is Barry’s first trip to Elland Road since Boxing Day 2003, which saw him play 90 minutes of a goalless draw. It’s safe to say Leeds have been on quite a journey in the last 15-odd years since.

“I’m looking forward to going back because it’s a fantastic stadium,” said Barry. “I’m sure it will be a sellout.

“I’ve watched their games regularly this season, they have fantastic fans and even when they went down to League One they were still supporting their club. But as a West Brom player I have to try and keep them as quiet as possible.”

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Leeds like to keep the ball, whereas West Brom prefer to counter, and those contrasting styles certainly played into the Baggies hands at The Hawthorns in November as they won 4-1 with just 28 per cent possession.

It was a big moment in West Brom’s season as they had picked up just a point from their previous four games, but it also highlighted their qualities as a counter-punching side, which is perhaps why they have won just once at home since. When teams sit deep West Brom tend to struggle.

“We changed our formation in that game and went to 4-3-3,” said Barry. “We’ve got good defensive players and we can sit back and counter because we also have skill up top. Playing that way may just suit us a little bit better.

“It really is coming to the business end of the season. We know we need to go on a good run of games, so why not start on Friday night against one of our rivals?”

But should they go on a run and achieve promotion, will Barry still be there to add to his appearance haul in the Premier League? He sees no reason why not.

“That would be a dream for me after the disappointments of last season,” he said. “If there’s a chance of bouncing back it would be a great turnaround, not just for me but for everyone else at the club.

“If we can get up in the top two it will be a fantastic year all around and one I will look back on with great fondness. It would be a perfect way to finish, but I would prefer to win promotion and carry on.”


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