Everton are likely to start with English stalwart Gareth Barry in the middle tonight, and it seems a long time ago that the now 35-year-old was once being chased by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez.
Infamously, Benitez was willing to sell Xabi Alonso in order to fund a move for Barry, which disenchanted the Spaniard and saw him depart for Real Madrid in 2009.
Back then, Barry played for Aston Villa in various roles up the left and occasionally in central midfield – and was known for his endless energy levels and sweet left foot. He was a very different player to the lethargic, sitting midfielder we see today.
According to the player, he had conversations with Benitez regarding a transfer, but decided on Manchester City instead because Mark Hughes didn’t have plans to use him as a utility player.
“I met the City manager Mark Hughes in a hotel. He emphasised the ambition of the owners. He described it as a speeding train and his advice was to jump on,” Barry told the Mail.
“I also spoke to [then manager] Rafa Benitez at Liverpool but he didn’t completely convince me. He said he wanted me to come in, play left-back, left-midfield, centre midfield. That’s what I’d done at [Aston] Villa, it wasn’t for me any more.”
What’s more, Barry suggested he felt disrespected in 2008 when Liverpool agreed to pay £21m on Robbie Keane but wouldn’t meet his £18m asking price.
“That didn’t personally go down well with me.”
“Steven Gerrard had heard I’d agreed terms with City and called me up. ‘Are you sure you’ve made your mind up? Is there anything that can change your mind? Tell me it isn’t the money.'”
“I took it as a huge compliment Steven wanted me at Liverpool. I said it wasn’t just the money, my mind was made up and Manchester City was the right one. In hindsight, it was the right decision.”
Benitez came to within inches of title glory in 2008/09, but on Alonso’s departure, the wheels started to come off. Without his guile in midfield, and with Barry at City, we laboured to seventh, with Alberto Aquilani – the midfielder who signed instead – proving a complete flop.
Still, losing Alonso was far more costly than missing out on Barry, considering the former starts for Bayern Munich and the latter fights for a spot at Everton.