Hyder Jawad explains why Villa skipper Gareth Barry has plenty to offer club and country.
It was just a coincidence, of course, that on the day Gareth Barry was tenuously linked with a move to Chelsea, Aston Villa announced that their captain would be receiving a testimonial for ten years of sterling service. It was a coincidence, wasn't it?
Whatever, it is clear that Barry's performances for England in the past four international matches have made him famous beyond the confines of Villa Park and have made him such an attractive proposition. A midfield player, stable of mind, with all the right credentials to balance a team, and quintessentially English . . . little wonder Chelsea have unofficially entered the equation.
All the years of playing in different positions, of dealing with rejection, of endearing himself to the Villa supporters; all the years of working hard, of developing a unique style of play, of learning from the likes of Martin O'Neill and Graham Taylor. It is all starting to bear fruit in the most emphatic fashion.
Not only is Barry an England player, he is an indispensable England player. That is why Villa decided to make the one announce-ment that would emotionally tie him to the club probably for the rest of his career. "Ten years with one club does not happen very often these days,"
O'Neill, the Villa manager, told the official club website.
O'Neill is right. And what makes Barry's achievement even more worthy of praise is that he is still only 26 and, conceivably, has his best days ahead of him. He became, last week, the youngest player in history to play 300 Premier League matches and it is easy seeing him break the record for 400 appearances, 500, 600. . .
And then there are the increasing chances of Barry surpassing the Villa appearances record of Charlie Aitken, who played 659 matches for club from 1959-76. Barry has already played 365 and is more than halfway there.
Barry, who joined Villa as a 16-year-old in 1997 from Brighton & Hove Albion, was always ahead of his years. He has since played under four Villa managers - John Gregory, Taylor, David O'Leary, and O'Neill - and has always resisted the temptation to leave the club.
He came closest in August 2006, just when O'Neill had taken over. Tottenham Hotspur - remember them? - tried to sign Barry for £4 million. Only intervention from O'Neill, who convinced Barry that the days of underachievement were over, ensured that the player signed a new contract.
O'Neill knew, as did all Villa supporters, that Barry had been the club's most consistent player over the past five years and was one of the few to emerge from the wretched O'Leary era with any credit.
But O'Neill might have done more than keep Barry at the club as a player for the next few years. O'Neill might inadvertently have identified his own successor. It is easy to see Barry one day taking over as the club's playermanager a few years down the line.
Villa are good at grooming people. For sure, Barry would need to develop in so many other ways to be deemed management material, but the best managers are usually those men who mature at an early age.
When Barry turned up at Villa in 1997, aged just 16, he was already a man. He was still a teenager when he made his England debut and still a teenager when he played in the 2000 FA Cup final.
By the autumn of 2001, he was out of the team and seemingly not a part of Gregory's plans. But Barry dealt with the setback as well as he had dealt with the joys of being part of the England squad for the 2000 European Championships. He realised, aged just 20, that you cannot have success without some failure.
It was no surprise when Barry was linked with Chelsea. His performances with England over the past six weeks have been too assured to be ignored by those who are always on the look-out for young, English talent. Barry shrugged his shoulders. "How true it is, I don't know," he said. "I certainly won't be worrying about it or thinking about it. I'd like to reassure fans that I am not looking to leave."
This was a brilliant quote. It kept the Villa supporters happy without leaving himself wide open to suggestions that he was insulting Chelsea or even talking about transfer speculation that might be untrue.
He is Villa's captain, most accomplished player, ambassador and, to my mind, a potential future manager. Perhaps these are reasons why Villa decided this week to announce his forth-coming testimonial. It put Chelsea off the scent and told the football world that Barry's career at Villa Park still has some years left to run.