Since 2008, when Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour, they’ve undergone seismic change.
Where once City were a poorly run joke, they’re now one of the most impressive football clubs in England, with a superb squad of players, a dynamic boardroom and plans to build academy facilities that will be the envy of the world. They’ve won the league and the FA Cup and now look set to improve their European performances after a summer of sensible acquisitions. The old City that provided so many laughs to rival fans is gone.
Of all the money spent since the takeover (thought to be £1 billion when everything is taken into account), very little of it has been as successful as the £12 million City paid Aston Villa for Gareth Barry. The English midfielder gets a lot of criticism from fans outside the Etihad, but inside he’s revered for being a player vital to City’s recent rise.
His neat and tidy passing and brilliant positional sense have made him an incredibly important player. He keeps the ball superbly well, linking play with his simple yet effective passing game, allowing City’s star attractions to express themselves freely. He’s been the heartbeat of the City midfield since the day he signed.
An old adage that’s been repeated in the stands at the Etihad says you can tell how much a rival fan knows about football from his assessment of Barry. Those who don’t rate him well don’t understand the nuances of the game; those who do can spot the small details that make the difference to a side’s effectiveness.
For Monday night’s 4-0 win over Newcastle, which saw City usher in the Manuel Pellegrini era in style, Barry wasn’t even on the bench. At 32, his legs aren’t carrying in him like they once did, and the signing of Fernandinho means he’s no longer a guaranteed starter. In fact, City have a wealth of midfield options alongside their new Brazilian, with Yaya Toure, Jack Rodwell, James Milner and Javi Garcia also vying for places.
Barry’s chances of playing regularly have been massively reduced and, as a player who has aspirations of being part of England’s World Cup squad this summer, he needs to be starting. Everton are being linked with a loan move which would allow Barry to see out the final 12 months of his City deal whilst playing regularly. It would be a great deal for all involved: Everton would be getting a superb player, Barry would be playing and City would reduce their wage bill.
Monday’s game was the first time since Barry joined City that they’ve played without him and he’s not been missed. In the past his absence has always been keenly felt, but such is City’s newfound strength in depth they no longer rely so heavily on his talents. There's no doubting he's been a superb player for the club, but his influence is undoubtedly waning.
It’s time Barry left City and explored pastures new. He still has a few years of Premier League football left in his locker and has every chance of making it to the World Cup if he can play regularly for a side and demonstrate his ability.
He’s far too good to be sat in the stands at City.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity