Opinion: Gareth Barry still has a central role to play at Everton even at the age of 35

He maybe 35-years-old but his influence at the Toffees remains and he is a central part of Martinez's plans as the 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal highlighted.

Opinion: Gareth Barry still has a central role to play at Everton even at the age of 35
Gareth Barry has been a driving force in Everton's midfield this season. (Image: Getty Images)

At 35-years-old you can be forgiven for thinking that Gareth Barry's best years are behind him, but this did not stop Everton manager Roberto Martinez describing the midfielder as "one of the best English players ever" earlier this year.

The Everton boss made that comment after Barry helped the Toffees to a 2-1 Capital One Cup first-leg lead over Manchester City in January and, at age 35, Barry's influence at Everton remains as the 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal highlighted.

Barry is a central part of Martinez's plans

There is no doubt that Gareth Barry is a central part of Roberto Martinez's plans to the extent that the Everton boss said that the Toffees would have to completely change the way they play the day Barry retires.

Without the midfielder's presence on Saturday, as Barry served the first of a two game suspension, Barry's influence was highlighted, albeit the lack of it. The Toffees lacked his steadying influence, his ability to pick the right pass and the defence had nobody dropping deep to collect the ball under pressure.

The ease with which Arsenal constructed their attacks said much about Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but more about the absence of Barry. Muhamed Besic, James McCarthy and Tom Cleverley were torn apart by Arsenal, and completely failed to paper over Barry's absence.

Muhamed Besic played just 45 minutes before being replaced by John Stones. | Photo: Getty Images
Muhamed Besic played just 45 minutes before being replaced by John Stones. | Photo: Getty Images

Besic replaced Barry in the starting XI, but he had 45 minutes to forget. He was asked to fill the space left by Barry, but he simply couldn't, and for all that Besic is excellent at, doing an impression of Barry is not one of them.

Martinez has the international break to develop a game plan that will limit the loss of Barry when they head to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Sunday 3 April. Many teams have a player they rely on more than others, but it is an extra worrying issue for Everton to be so reliant on a player in the twlight of his career, even one as defiant of the ageing process as Barry.

Not one for the headlines and limelight

Barry has received 53 caps for England's senior side, but unlike fellow England internationals, the 35-year-old is not a player that steals the headlines and limelight. Instead he is solid, steady and the upmost professional.

From a footballing perspective, his ability to pick the right option and position himself correctly compensates for a lack of speed. While, off the pitch, Barry is a commanding, respected figure within Everton's dressing room and his experience, including big games, is priceless.

Barry has been a strong influence since he first joined the Toffees initially on loan in 2013. | Photo: Liverpool Echo
Barry has been a strong influence since he first joined the Toffees initially on loan in 2013. | Photo: Liverpool Echo

The statistics also support Barry's influence. The former Manchester City and Aston Villa player has made the fourth highest amount of passes in the Premier League, with a success rate of 83 per cent, and 103 successful tackles this season. Despite his age, only Bournemouth's Andrew Surman has covered more distance in the top-flight than Barry.

At 35, there is no doubt that Barry still has a big role to play at Goodison Park and, with his current contract due to expire in the summer of 2017, the Toffees are going to need to find a suitable replacement as his influence and experience will be extremely hard to emulate.