If you buy a classic car, refurbish and give it a new lease of life – what do you do when the engine fails? You can try and fix the engine or buy a replacement engine, but under no circumstances do you do neither and drive away blindly hoping for the best. This however, seems to be Everton’s strategy in the last few years after a certain Garth Barry left Goodison Park and joined West Bromwich Albion in 2017. Two and a half years on from that hectic summer, Everton will still wonder whether or not they truly replaced a player best described as a rare vintage wine. After all he is still the Premier League’s highest outfield appearance maker.
A solid, combative midfielder who also possessed an exceptional passing range is what most Manchester City, Aston Villa and England fans will have described him as during his pomp. But when Everton made him a last-minute loan offer in August 2013, very few thought he would be able to maintain that reputation. A few days later, fifteen minutes or so into his full debut against Chelsea, a robust, but world-class sliding challenge, on future Blue Samuel Eto’o spared the blushes of an out of sorts Tim Howard. The first Goodison victory for Roberto Martinez, Everton would go on to win 1-0.
How things might have been different for both player and manager as both attempted to win over the Goodison faithful. A solid string of performances throughout that season by a team benefiting from the seemingly perfect combination of Barry’s guild and experience coupled with the engine of a younger James Mccarthy. The School of Science as the supporters sang looked like it was on his way back.
Everton amassed a Premier League records points total in Barry’s first season but narrowly missed out on a place at the European dinner table of football’s elite. The Summer of 2014 proved a challenging summer for the Blues. A South American world cup and an almost marathon pursuit of Romelu Lukaku’s permanent signature posed many problems for the squad with a mish-mash pre- season coupled with players returning from the world cup in Brazil at differing times.
A straight forward part of that summer though, was the acquisition of Barry, but this time on a permanent deal. One signing, and the core of Everton’s team seemed taken care of, for that summer at least. A Mixed start to the season for both the club and Barry followed, and despite some early season success in Europe, Everton’s season quickly disintegrated to nothing more than a disappointing mid-table finish. Barry’s form was steady and despite occasional injuries nobody seemed to take the pebble from his hand, so to speak, and replace him in the team.
It is at this point you would imagine a conversation behind the scenes regarding Barry’s long-term successor would have begun. But, as history now shows, this clearly didn’t happen.
Again, during Barry’s next two seasons he would continue to be one of the first names on the team sheet and despite differing midfield partners – previously mentioned Mccarthy, a tenacious Idrissa Gueye and even an injury prone yet talented Darron Gibson, Gareth Barry remained a linchpin in the Everton side.
At this point, the club may be forgiven for thinking that a young Tom Davies coming through the ranks would answer many of the questions this article poses, but sadly as of yet, it is not to be. Continuing to drift in and out of the matchday eleven, and some three years on from ‘that goal against Manchester City’, Davies has yet to properly impose himself.
When the time came for Barry to leave in search of regular playing time, the midfield void that he has left seemed to be very much filled. A certain Morgan Schneiderlin looked at one point like the natural successor and after his first 6 months very few Evertonian’s disagreed. Sadly, this optimism was also short lived and the same problems re-surfaced. It was at this time I started pondering what could have been if we had successfully replaced one of the league’s most consistent performers.
After an embarrassing Merseyside Derby defeat on Sunday, it left so many new questions about the state of Everton’s midfield. The old questions resurfaced about whether or not a more robust, clinical midfielder is required, and one it that has to be said, is cut from the same cloth as Barry once was.
As the January transfer market accelerates into full swing this week, the prospect of midfield reinforcements will surely be at the fore front of Carlo Ancelotti’s mind. Between his managerial expertise, Marcel Brands’ knowledge and scouting pools, it remains to be seen whether or not Everton can find their new midfield linchpin.
Perhaps trying to unearth a younger version of the player that was once loved, and above all respected as one of Everton’s best midfielders of the decade, is top of his list.