For long periods of last season, it looked like Gareth Barry’s career was waning like Everton’s fortunes. As the club lurched from loss to loss, Barry was being scapegoated by the fans who were bemused how the Toffees had slumped from almost qualifying for the Champions League to taking up residence in the lower half of the table within two seasons.
The veteran midfielder, who will be making his 600th Premier League appearance later today against Middlesbrough, spoke about how former manager Roberto Martinez lost the dressing room last season.
“The standards of the players were, for me, slightly slipping last season, on and off the pitch. It was things like time-keeping, dress codes, training, everything really.
“If standards are slipping off the pitch it can impact on your form on the pitch and the whole team was losing the level that is expected to compete at the top end of the Premier League.
“The confidence and everything had gone and things were maybe going away from what was expected. Results weren’t going the right way and there was a lot of unrest with the fans.
“It is easy for players sometimes to get dragged along with that and all of a sudden the standards are slipping. I think you could tell from some of the performances last season that was creeping in.”
Under Ronald Koeman however, things have changed at Everton.
“The manager doesn't want to come across as some sort of headmaster, but he has been quite keen to let anybody know if they go underneath the standards expected. That is good for everyone.
“One of things he has done is keep things pretty simple. There is no need to complicate it too much. If players know their role it is easier to keep to them. We know the schedule, we know the structure of what he wants us to do and it is pretty simple.”
The new manager’s intensity comes across loud and clear to all the players, even in training.
“For example, one morning this week, a team was losing heavily at head tennis and he wanted to know why. He doesn't want anyone losing their focus and with good reason.
“One team shouldn't get beat so heavily at anything within the club, whether it's head tennis, five-a-side or on a Saturday.”
Barry, who is 35 and sees his contract expire at the end of this season, credits his attitude for his longevity.
“It is a fantastic job but when you are coming in to the same thing every day it can be easy to switch off. One of the things I try to do is keep that level of focus and keep my standards pretty high.
“That has been one of my strengths. For example, with a new manager coming in this season, I didn't go into pre-season thinking I've played so many games.
“For me, that is all forgotten and I needed to impress a new manager. He's not going to be interested in what I've done over the previous 500-odd games. He's only interested in what I can do now and that is the approach I've always tried to take.
“There is nowhere to hide. You go into the dressing room and the stats are there – distance covered, high intensity, tackles. Everything is on the board. You know what you are doing. If your level isn’t there again, (the numbers) are probably getting a ring around them from someone upstairs.
“You need to use it to help you. You should not be thinking, ‘I’m 35, I shouldn’t need to run as much as the other players.’ That would be the easy way out. You could do it for a bit but eventually it will catch up with you.”
While Koeman wouldn’t be drawn into commenting whether he will be offering Barry a new contract, the player acknowledged that he has had offers from the United States and China.
“My agent has had a couple of calls. I respect I'll be 36 at the end of my contract, so I know they won't be chasing me for a new contract and it would be cheeky for me to go and ask.
“There have been some calls but no offers and I'm not in a position where I have said 'Get me some figures!' but, like I said, while I am still playing for Everton and enjoying it, there is no need to think about anything. My head is not going to get turned.”
He went on to say that if England manager Sam Allardyce calls on him, he would be able to add to his 53 caps for his country.
“I still feel I could play and do a job in that position at that level. I would back myself to play that position as well as anyone who’s English.
“Being left out of the squad really hurts. But these are things you can’t control, so you can’t worry about them.”
Following a groin injury which knocked him out of contention for Euro 2012, Barry was not able to break back into the Three Lions squad, and empathized with Ross Barkley who has found himself shunned by England under two managers.
“I’ve been in that position myself. At Villa I had maybe two months out of the team. It coincided with being left out of the England squad.
“John Gregory was manager. It is really tough to take. It dents your confidence a bit. Ross isn’t showing that. He just has to keep doing the right things.
“You only need one moment to turn your career around - a goal, a fantastic performance.”
Barry feels he can continue playing till 40, and has picked up yoga as a means of maintaining peak physical shape.
“I don’t see any reason why not. I feel as good as I did when I was 30. I’m 35 now, and I don’t feel any different.
“One of my regrets is not winning a trophy at Villa - that still hurts. It’s why one of the things I want to do is win a trophy with Everton before I hang my boots up.”
Barry won the Premier League title with Manchester City, and will be hoping to lift some more silverware before he walks away from the game for the final time.
(Excerpts courtesy of The Express, Daily Mail and The Daily Star)