RUSTENBURG, June 16 – To paraphrase Monty Python, he's not the Messiah, he's just very good at what he does.Gareth Barry’s return to the England starting line-up is being eagerly anticipated as Fabio Capello’s squad search for the holy grail of tactical coherence they mislaid somewhere between qualifying and arriving in South Africa.
Manchester City midfielder Barry has started 19 of the 25 matches England have played under Capello, with his absence from the last three the result of ankle ligament damage he suffered in Manchester City’s penultimate Premier League match of the season, against Tottenham.
The importance of Barry’s unflashy ability to break up opposition attacks, provide a shield for England’s back four and launch counter-attacks was underlined by the coach’s willingness to take him to South Africa even though he was unlikely to be fit for the opening match, against the United States.
As it turned out, Barry resumed full training three days before Saturday’s 1-1 draw and his team-mates have made it clear they expect him to return to the starting line-up for Friday’s must-win meeting with Algeria in Cape Town.
"He’s been training well," Wayne Rooney reported. "We know the kind of player he is. He can sit in the hole for us, is good in possession and gives us another option."
Barry’s significance for England goes beyond what he provides himself.
The 29-year-old also seems to be a catalyst for England getting more from Steven Gerrard, who took over the midfield holding role from Barry against the United States and was notably turned by Clint Dempsey in the build-up to the American forward’s equaliser.
With Barry in the side, Gerrard is, to a degree, freed from defensive chores to play a more attacking role from the left of midfield.
The consequences of that go further, according to Jonathan Wilson, the author of ‘Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics’.
"Barry not only provides extra security in front of the back four, but also allows Gerrard to return to the left," Wilson told AFP.
"Because Gerrard naturally cuts infield, that immediately breaks the static lines of England’s habitual 4-4-2, opening space for Ashley Cole to overlap from left-back and he is liberated by the cover Barry provides.
"Cole’s forward runs accommodate Rooney’s natural leftward drift to create a triangle of inter-movement on the left.
"Gerrard breaking infield onto his right-foot also gives England an extra goalscoring option, providing an additional midfield breaker to capitalise on (Emile) Heskey’s knock-downs."
That’s the theory anyway. It should be clear by Friday evening if Barry really is England’s tactical Messiah.