Premier League appearance record a tribute to Gareth Barry's longevity, consistency
History is not always made by the trendy. The Premier League can market itself as being about the glitz and glamour. Gareth Barry may seem the anti-Premier League football but when West Bromwich Albion against West Ham kicked off, it meant no one had made more appearances in the division's history.
Barry drew level with Ryan Giggs on 632. Giggs may have seemed a more fitting figure at the top of the leaderboard, the most decorated individual in the history of the Premier League's most successful club. He was a player with a propensity to thrill who represented Manchester United when they were indelibly associated with attacking football. Barry is a more dependable sort, a kind of antidote to excitement, who has been signed by another, Tony Pulis.
The most prestigious Premier League records have been held by those with legitimate claims to greatness. Most appearances, assists and titles? Giggs. Most goals? Alan Shearer. Most clean sheets? Petr Cech.
Barry is perhaps not a great as much as a great constant; the same, of course, may be said of his current manager. They represent the other side of the Premier League dream: not new, not faddish, not eye-catching but reassuringly reliable, bringing old-fashioned, unchanging values to an ever more different world.
Barry's accomplishment is a triumph of longevity, of continuity, of consistency and, above all, of fitness. He debuted in May 1998. He became a regular for Aston Villa the following campaign. His 632 games, barring two in 1997-98 and four in the current campaign, amount to an average of 33 matches a season over 19 years: his totals were 32, 30, 30, 20, 35, 36, 34, 36, 35, 37, 38, 34, 33, 34, 31, 32, 33, 33 and 33 league games respectively. To put it another way, on average, he has only missed five league games a season. For 19 years.
He has had just one significant injury in almost two decades, meaning his first league appearance of the 2001-02 campaign did not come until December. Beyond that, the only major difference is that 10 of those appearances in his final year at Everton were as a replacement.
Rather than being phased out or becoming a bit-part player, he decamped to West Brom to carry on doing what he was doing in the 20th century: starting every week. A man who debuted for England in 2000 had rejected a contract to stay at Goodison Park until 2019.
He has been a regular, and often automatic, choice for four clubs -- Villa, Manchester City, Everton and now Albion -- and, unlike his counterpart and contemporary Michael Carrick, in four different positions: centre-back, left-back, left midfield and, for the majority of his career, in the centre of midfield. It speaks to Barry's unflashy adaptability. So, too, that he played for an expansive City side who scored 93 league goals in a season and he is now playing Pulisball, perhaps a polar opposite.
He has figured in sides playing 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 and has been a regular, and usually automatic choice for nine managers who have few other common denominators: John Gregory, Graham Taylor, David O'Leary, Martin O'Neill, Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini, Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman and now Pulis.
He has been picked by purists and pragmatists, Brits and foreigners. Only one manager, Man City's Manuel Pellegrini, has seemed not to want him. Mancini liked him so much he tried to take him to Galatasaray. City held him in such high esteem they offered him a deal at New York. His permanence in the Premier League could have been lost had his focus altered.
But he has been unchanging. He was even an ever present in his last season at Villa after he was fined and stripped of the captaincy for publically criticising O'Neill amid interest from Liverpool. It was a rare memorable comment from a man who has cultivated a bland persona. That seeming dullness can disguise both a professionalism and a determination.
Indeed, a mastery of one of the professional arts, tactical fouling, perhaps accounts for his longevity, but also has cost him further appearances when suspended. Barry already held one Premier League record: for cautions. He was the first man booked 100 times in the division's history. He reached double figures in three of his four seasons at Goodison Park. He has allied high pass completion rates with high placings in the disciplinary standings.
But he has often flown under the radar. He has often been underrated, occasionally overrated. Rafa Benitez wanted to sacrifice Xabi Alonso to sign Barry in 2008. Martinez once branded him one of England's greatest ever players. Perhaps more realistically, Koeman deemed him one of the best players he had ever managed.
What he is not, however, is a contender for a place in the all-time Premier League side. Giggs is. Comparisons between two long-serving left-footers may be unfair. For instance, Barry has played 776 club games in all competitions and Giggs, partly due to annual commitments in Europe, played 963, 40 of which came before the Premier League's inception in 1992.
The Welshman played well into his 41st year whereas the Englishman is only 36 and Martinez suggested two years ago that Barry could play on into his 40s. The Spaniard is no stranger to hyperbole but, if he is right, Barry could set an appearance record that might never be beaten. His place in history may be secure after all.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.