Man of Iron Number One

632. 

That is the absurdly high number of Premier League appearances fans did not expect to be surpassed. A record many thought would stand for years to come. 

633.

A new number to chase. Gareth Barry now the champion of appearances with no indication that he’s slowing down. 

Barry’s feat is nothing short of wildly impressive. His numbers would boggle the most genius of minds. He has made 633 Premiership appearances! Those are astonishing heights considering the brutality of the English league. Its tenets of strength and speed shorten many a livelihood. Yet, Barry has survived and has stayed relatively injury free. Let us not discount the talent it takes itself to endure a career of this type of longevity without your body disintegrating or becoming a victim to ill health. He has played in thirty or more Premier League matches in every full season he has participated in bar one, in which he took the pitch for twenty (Barry was injured in 2001 and did not feature for Aston Villa until December of that season and still played twenty times)! The breakdown:

Aston Villa – 1998/99: 32; 99/00: 30; 00/01: 30; 01/02: 20; 02/03: 35; 03/04: 36; 04/05: 34; 05/06: 36; 06/07: 35; 07/08: 37; 08/09: 38

Manchester City – 09/10: 34; 10/11: 33; 11/12: 34; 12/13: 31

Everton – 13/14: 32; 14/15: 33; 15/16: 33; 16/17: 33

West Bromwich Albion – 17/18: 5 (and counting)

The consistency is earth shattering. In the 2008/09 season he played in every single Premier League match! Keep in mind these are just statistics and the record for League appearances. He played in over forty matches regularly in this stretch due to involvement in European and domestic cup runs. Barry even knocked in 53 England caps throughout with the crux of his activity coming between 2007 and 2011. #soundstiring

Listen, Gareth Barry is a really good player. He is disciplined and plays with energy. Managers rely on his smarts on the ball and his general intelligence on the pitch. Players trust him. He is the rock in midfield usually frustrating the opponent. Holding in front of the back line. However, he certainly is no superstar. His name isn’t sung from the rafters. His face is certainly on no billboards I’ve ever come across. I cannot think of a single Gareth Barry highlight. And I’m trying quite hard. His teams didn’t win anything, or much. He won nothing with Villa. He won nothing with Everton. With all due respect, he is odds on going to win nothing with WBA. As a City player he won the 2011 FA Cup and followed that with a title medal the next season.  And credit to him for featuring heavily in those victorious squads. But, he is a player that kept on moving to clubs in need to extend his career. Every single player aiming for these seemingly unreachable numbers continues through the exact same arc, so there is absolutely no shame in that. There exists only one anomaly to this well recognized path: Ryan Giggs. #tearingyouapartsince1991

Ryan Giggs in ’99 with 1 of his 2 Champions League trophies

Barry eclipsed former record holder Giggs (Giggs still has more League appearances in total since he played pre-Premier League era as well…I know it’s confusing, but the Football League changed to the Premier League 25 years ago…blame Western capitalism) when Barry’s West Brom side were soundly defeated by Arsenal on Monday, September 25th, 2017. The light shining on Barry during this massive accomplishment only shines brighter on what Giggs was able to do. 632 Premier League appearances for the Welsh Wizard Giggsy. One of the most decorated athletes in human history. No domestic or European trophy of note exists that he did not hoist. A statue at Old Trafford awaits him, the stadium he called home for every single minute of his career. The appearance record may, and likely will, be broken again. But I fail to see another player playing so many matches in the League for just one club. Not just any club either; Ryan Giggs played at the very very VERY highest level for Manchester United in three different decades. And thrived. Amidst all the buying, amidst all the youth. Simply, no one has done it. Frank Lampard’s 609 appearances? 3 clubs. David James’s 572 appearances? 5 clubs. Gary Speed’s 535 appearances? 4 clubs. Emile Heskey’s 516 appearances? 5 clubs. Mark Schwarzer’s 514 appearances? 4 clubs. You get the picture. 

Take nothing away from Gareth Barry. I will not be shocked if he ends his legendary career with 700+ Premier League appearances. To be completely honest with you, I’d be genuinely disappointed if he didn’t. He is a role model. Has kept his head down and just played football. That is a legitimate rarity nowadays (see everyone from Mario Balotelli to Memphis Depay). But, his record setting story is incomplete without the backdrop of Giggs and what that superhero was able to accomplish. 

And now we watch as Barry journeys on with his glittering career. He is alone atop a statistical category any footballer dreams about. The English midfielder is worthy of any and all of the plaudits for this particular achievement. It is up to him now to reset the record and observe as so many hopefuls attempt to catch and eventually smash the final tally. The fact is almost everybody will fail. And that is why we need to stop, stand and applaud what Gareth Barry has just pulled off. Cheers, Gaz!

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