26. Gareth Barry
Born: Hastings, 23 February 1981
Aston Villa career: 1997-2009
Appearances: 440 Goals: 52
A mainstay in the Aston Villa line-up for the best part of a decade, Barry’s ever-improving performances and desire to play Champions League football ultimately meant that the club were all but powerless to prevent him from leaving.
The former Brighton & Hove Albion trainee joined Villa’s academy from the south coast side in August 1997, and after signing his first professional contract the following February, went on to make his professional debut at the end of the same campaign, aged just 17 and 76 days.
He played in midfield that day – the position he would eventually settle into – but the versatile left-footer mainly spent the next few seasons in defence alongside the likes of Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate.
After playing in the 2000 FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea, he made his England debut at left-back just 11 days later in a pre-Euro 2000 friendly against Ukraine and subsequently made Kevin Keegan’s 22-man squad as an injury replacement for Jason Wilcox.
However, as his Premier League career blossomed over the following years, Barry found himself out of favour with Three Lions boss Sven Goran Eriksson, and it was not until the Swede’s departure in 2006 that he began to re-establish himself in the squad.
By that time, the Hastings native was fully entrenched in midfield and thriving in his role as Villa captain. He won the club’s Player of the Year in Martin O’Neill’s debut campaign and helped guide the team to consecutive sixth-place finishes over the next two seasons, while also developing into an expert penalty taker.
However, other clubs were starting to take notice of his performances at that stage, and after Liverpool had several bids for his signature rejected in the summer of 2008, Barry and O’Neill were involved in a well-publicised falling out which saw him stripped of the armband.
He was eventually restored as skipper midway through the 2008-09 season following Martin Laursen’s career-ending knee injury, but after Villa fell short of a top four finish, an imminent departure seemed inevitable.
The claret and blue faithful’s worst fears were soon realised the next month when Barry was sold to big-spending Manchester City for £12 million, bringing an end to a 12-year stay which saw him make 440 total appearances – putting him eighth on the club’s all-time list – and score 52 goals.
Plenty criticised his decision to leave at the time – and understandably so – but Barry was ultimately vindicated. Upon departing City for Everton on an initial loan deal in September 2013, the now-Toffees midfielder had won a Premier League title, lifted the FA Cup and played at a World Cup.
Villa, meanwhile, have been going in the opposite direction ever since. Ashley Young, James Milner and O’Neill had all followed the former skipper out the exit door by the next summer, and the club were soon battling relegation instead of fighting for a European place.
If only they’d secured a Champions League spot during Barry’s heyday, things could have gone very differently.
Aston Villa: top 30 players