Gareth Barry: 19 years and still going strong at the top level

West Brom midfielder set to level Ryan Giggs’ Premier League appearance record against West Ham

Gareth Barry will equal the Premier League appearance record held by Ryan Giggs on Saturday should he feature for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham at The Hawthorns. His 632nd top-flight appearance comes 19 years after his debut for Aston Villa at Sheffield Wednesday and follows 365 Premier League games for the Midlands club, 132 games for Manchester City, 131 for Everton and three so far for his new club. We speak to some of the players and managers who have featured in the 36-year-old's remarkable career.

Ian Taylor, former Aston Villa midfielder
I was in the Villa team when Gareth was coming through. He had been shining for the youth team for a long time while training with us before his senior debut, so we were all aware of his ability before he made his debut at Sheffield Wednesday. John Gregory had been thinking. "I've got to play this lad" and Gareth came on for me when he was only 17. Knowing my luck with injuries it was probably a hamstring that forced me off and he never looked back from that moment. Once he broke into the side he was always one of the first names on the team-sheet and you knew straight away that, with his quality, he was going to play for England.

Gareth was always quiet in the dressing room and his level-headedness for a 17-year-old was untrue. I’m sure that has helped him deal with playing at the highest level for 19 years. Another reason is that he never got injured. You could always rely on Gareth to play and he was also very adaptable. He started off at centre-back and moved into midfield, where I think the holding midfield role was made for him. He was not an amazing athlete but he could get around and the quality of his left foot outshone everybody else. To have played that many games in the Premier League shows what all of his managers have thought of him. Gareth has not disappointed any of them and always played to the best of his ability.

I wouldn’t say he is underrated. There are players at every club who people tend to notice more when they are not playing and people are naturally more drawn to the goalscorers and the flamboyant players. But I’m sure every manager in the Premier League would have wanted a Gareth Barry in their team. It’s fantastic that he will equal and break Ryan Giggs’s record because he deserves it. I can’t say enough good things about Gareth Barry. He’s not just a good player but a great fella too.

James Milner, played alongside Barry for both Villa and Manchester City, where the midfielder won the Premier League and FA Cup
Gareth joined City a year before I did and we hit it off pretty much straight away, with me setting up a goal for him on my debut against Liverpool. We had already played together at Aston Villa, where he was one of the more senior guys, and I was a younger player so I already knew what he was about but he had his own group of mates at that time, mainly drawn from the more established players at the club, and it was at City that we became close.

He’s pretty quiet. He’s not one of the more talkative ones in the dressing room and he doesn’t rant and rave but, when something needs saying, he says it at the right time and in the right way. That makes him one of those characters who everyone listens to and he carries a lot of respect because of that.

He was one for all of the players, the kind who anyone could turn to if they had a problem. He was always willing to use his experience in that way. He’s obviously a nice guy who conducts himself the right way and he’s always been a really good professional. On the field he just does a great job, often an underrated job, for the team. I don’t think he’s had the praise he deserves considering how good a player he’s been but anyone who has played alongside him wouldn’t need anyone to tell them how good he is. Not that he wants the limelight or the praise; he’s an old-school type who just wants to do his job.

He played a massive part in the success that we enjoyed at City and, if you look at the team he was part of, he often played alongside Yaya Toure in midfield and Gareth was the perfect foil for Yaya because his willingness to sit in and ability to read the game allowed Yaya to push forward as often as he wanted to. I know Yaya has received criticism in the last couple of seasons from people who say he doesn't work hard enough off the ball but no one was even mentioning that when Gareth was there because they had such a good balance.

He would sweep up, get involved, make the tackles and let the others go and play. It’s hard to pick out a single moment. He scored some great goals but the big thing was his consistency and, because he always performed at such a high level, there aren’t instances that stand out. You could count the number of bad games he had on the fingers of one hand.

When things were changing a bit at City he moved on but he carried on exactly the same way. He was able to do that because he has looked after himself so well but it was a big blow to me when he left City. In football you know players move on and you get a bit used to it but Gareth was a big loss. We played golf together, socialised together and we had a really strong bond but I also noticed his absence in the dressing room, in training and out on the pitch.

At the time when he was thinking about leaving we probably spoke about his situation and, if we did, I would have told him that he had to do the best thing for his career because, as much as I wouldn’t have wanted to lose him as a team-mate, he is a mate and I would have wanted him to do the best thing for himself and for his career. He hasn’t done too badly since then either.

Leon Osman, former Everton midfielder
I first met Gareth at 16 when he was at Brighton and we played for England under-16s. He was the best in that group by far and within a year he was playing in the Aston Villa first team. He never looked back. A lot of what he does goes under the radar but to play at the highest level for 19 years is just incredible. That shows how fit he has managed to keep himself and it is no fluke. When he came to Everton he had already won the Premier League and the FA Cup with Manchester City but he worked harder than anyone on his fitness.

He did yoga every day, never missed a training session, he was always the first in the gym and he would always do strength and conditioning work after training. It was something you took note of whether you were a young player or a senior player. For the young players at Everton it was so important to have someone like Gareth, someone to try and emulate. He was a big player, had won top honours, but spent more time in the gym than anyone. Young lads take note of things like that and realise that, if you are going to achieve anything close to what Gareth has achieved, then you need to put the work in.

From the moment he came in for his debut against Chelsea (a 1-0 win in September 2013) and cleared one off the line, we realised what a player we were getting. He was already into his 30s by then but there was no one fitter than Gareth and he was great for us during his time at the club. He is a great lad off the pitch too, quite quiet and, as you can see from how he plays, someone who just goes about his job. He's an ice man, really. Gareth is never fazed by anything. He's calm, collected and still able to make the telling passes. In most games he played for Everton in that first season he was our best player or certainly up there.

His temperament has always been fantastic and he has never been affected by events off the pitch or from the terraces. He has never hogged the limelight or stood in it but, if he’s not playing for your team, you miss him. I know Manchester City fans were sorry to see him go, Aston Villa fans were sorry to lose what he gave them on the pitch and myself and many Evertonians were sorry to see him go in the summer. That says it all really. He is a credit to himself and his profession.

Ronald Koeman, Everton manager
It is a great achievement to play so many games over such a long time. It is all down to what he did, how he performed and to being a real professional. You don't reach that number of games if you don't live for football and don't live as a professional football player. You add to that the quality and the personality that Gareth has. I said when he left Everton that it was a decision I might come to regret. He is not that big a talker in the dressing room but, yes, he had that personality that had an influence on the rest of the people at the club.

In the way he trained, in how positive he was, even when he wasn’t starting in the team, he was a big example for the rest of the players. If he played, he always performed as you expected and that is the type of player, with his experience, that you like to keep. But I understood his reasons and, OK, I wasn’t the man to keep him here when he was so involved in wanting to play football regularly. He is a dream for a manager. You cannot have enough of those type of football players.

Ryan Giggs, current Premier League record appearance holder (who also played 40 games in the old First Division)
It's a credit to him. Obviously a lot of things have got to go for you - you've got to get picked and you've got to be fit because it's a lot of games. I don't know him well but you can see from the outside that he is a good pro, he looks a good player to have within the team and within the squad. And he's not that old. He could go on for another two or three years and maybe get to 700. He'll break my record and credit to him, records are there to be broken. Guardian service