If England are to go deep in South Africa, their hopes hinge on the fitness of key midfielder Gareth Barry. Fabio Capello has decided to sit out Barry for England's World Cup opener this Saturday against the United States. The England manager is exercising caution and is unwilling to risk his midfielder, who has just recovered from an ankle injury.
Barry went off injured in the 54th minute during Manchester City's 1-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur. City clearly missed his presence on the pitch as they narrowly missed out on Champions League football. Tottenham's Peter Crouch scored the lone goal of the match, guaranteeing fourth place for Spurs.
A long, lingering problem under previous England managers was how to accommodate star midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Sven-Göran Eriksson played Gerrard deeper, allowing Lampard to go forward, but this took away from Gerrard's overall effectiveness. Steve McClaren had experimented with Gerrard in a number of positions, but ultimately failed, as England missed out on Euro 2008 qualification.
English pundits started to question whether the two midfielders were capable of playing together.
Unlike his predecessors, Capello was able to figure out how to get the best out of the pair by shifting Gerrard to the left. Barry was given the holding midfielder role, as both Lampard and Gerrard were both given freedom to go forward.
Gareth's flexibility is an asset for England, as he can play on the left-wing, in central midfield or at left-back. Barry could even play centre-back in a pinch as he had in his younger days at Aston Villa.
He is the complete midfielder and possesses a sweet left foot.
Barry's ability to deliver long passes and perfect crosses makes him one of the top distributors in Europe. When played on the left-wing he's able to fall back and cover as Ashley Cole makes one of his trademark runs. In a central role, Gareth is able to support his defenders and dictate play with his long-passing ability.
Overall, Barry has impressed me most with his coolness, as he never panics. He has the ability to make clean tackles and seems to have a calming influence on his teammates.
England has a long history of being knocked out in major tournaments on penalties. Barry is an expert penalty taker as he could help end this trend and vanquish old demons.
Gareth Barry is a vital utility-man for Capello. He excels in a number of roles and does not shy away from responsibility. If he can stay fit he can give his country a strong chance at glory in South Africa.