In the words of journalist and Villa supporter Richard Whitehead, Gareth Barry evolved “from the coolest teenager on the planet to a fully matured leader of men.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone coming up with a more accurate description of a player who emerged from nowhere when he made his Villa debut in 1998 but became one of the greatest players in the club’s history over the course of the next decade.
Barry grew up, in a football sense, as a schoolboy with Brighton & Hove Albion but in 1997 he decided to join Villa’s Academy.
It was a decision which ultimately cost the club £1m in compensation to the south coast club but the outlay ultimately looked no more than small change.
He signed professional on turning 17 in February 1998 – and at the end of that season had his first taste of senior football, going on as a substitute for the injured Ian Taylor in a 3-1 win at Hillsborough.
He played that day in midfield – the position where he would make his biggest impact in claret and blue.
Yet his early days were mainly spent as a central defender for Villa and a left-back for England after he broke into the national team while still only 19.
As his Villa career flourished in the early part of the 21st century, he found himself out of favour in the international front during Sven Goran Eriksson’s time in charge of England but re-established himself as a regular in a Three Lions shirt following the appointment of Steve McLaren and subsequently Fabio Capello.
A member of the Villa side in the 2000 FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea, Barry’s midfield influence over the following years was such that Villa invariably struggled in his absence.
He also became the team’s captain and regular penalty taker – a job which had proved troublesome for numerous predecessors.
Barry’s desire for Champions League football almost led to a move to Liverpool in the summer of 2008.
That deal didn’t materialise but in May 2009 he left Villa to join Manchester City for £12m.