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Anthony Barry: The 'top quality' Chelsea coach tasked with replacing Damien Duff

From running set pieces, to arguing for a new approach to throw-ins and negotiating a hostage situation – The42 profiles a remarkable coaching rise to the Premier League and now Stephen Kenny’s staff.

Barry

STEPHEN KENNY HAS spent much of his tenure thus far as a hostage to abnormal fortune, so perhaps his new assistant coach can help him negotiate his way out of what now seems a cosmic bind. 

Among Anthony Barry’s tasks on his Uefa Pro Licence coaching course was to negotiate a staged hostage situation: the theory being that the scenario teaches essential communication skills for football coaches. 

The task was to keep the (fictional) hostage alive and secure their release, and Barry succeeded. 

John Eustace, now the assistant manager at QPR, was on the course and watching on. 

“He was just very calculated: he knew what to say at the right time, and he dealt with the pressure really well. He was just very impressive.” 

Eustace wasn’t the only man on that Pro Licence course impressed by Barry: Frank Lampard and his then-assistant Jody Morris were on it too, and Lampard recruited Barry as first-team coach for Chelsea at the start of this season. 

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Barry is a Scouser who started his playing career in Everton’s youth academy, but dropped down England’s divisions to play almost 300 games of first-team football with the likes of Yeovil, Fleetwood, and Accrington Stanley.

The highest-profile game of his playing career was Yeovil’s 2007 League One play-off final at Wembley, which was lost 2-0 against a Blackpool side featuring one Wes Hoolahan. 

soccer-coca-cola-football-league-one-play-off-final-yeovil-town-v-blackpool-wembley Barry, left, playing for Yeovil in the 2007 play-off final. Source: Nigel French

Barry had to wait 11 seasons for that promotion from England’s third tier, and he earned it as a coach. He retired at the age of 30 and, in 2017, was recruited by Paul Cook at Wigan to become the youngest first-team coach in the country. It went pretty well: Wigan won League One and famously beat the 100-point edition of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the FA Cup.

Speaking to the Athletic last year, Cook hailed Barry’s analysis skills, crediting him as a major factor for the FA Cup run past City to the quarter-finals. 

“I think the gaffer was planning to break him slowly”, says Noel Hunt, a member of the Wigan squad that season, “but he dived right in and people gravitated to him as he’s a really, really good guy.

“He makes the game simple for people to understand, he makes jobs and roles simple and easy to understand. He took little passing drills, technical drills, and finishing drills, and then he was always a sounding board as someone you could confide in.” 

Barry spent three seasons at Wigan – completing his Pro Licence qualification while there – and applied for the manager’s job at Tranmere Rovers last summer, missing out but taking a pretty good consolation prize in the form of a call from Lampard, and was appointed as Assistant Head Coach at Chelsea at the start of this season. 

Though Jody Morris left when Lampard was sacked in January, Barry was retained, and he ran training for a couple of days until Thomas Tuchel arrived. He was then approached for the vacant Fleetwood Town manager’s job, but turned it down as he wanted the experience of working under Tuchel. Barry has lots of time on his side: he’s still just 34.

Tuchel, meanwhile, sanctioned Barry’s role with Ireland on the agreement he juggles it with his Chelsea duties. 

“You can be very happy”, Tuchel tells The42. “You are very lucky, a top coach will join you and your coaching staff. We didn’t know him before, he was already here under Frank, but from the first moment he was a big part of our coaching team.” 

Barry’s primary responsibility at Chelsea is to organise their set pieces – both offensively and defensively – but helps out in all other aspects of the game, says Tuchel. 

“He has top quality in analysing games and giving his opinion. He is very comfortable on the pitch when he is in charge of exercises and he is very comfortable in front of the group. He is in charge and is the specialist for all set pieces – so he is doing the video sessions and training for set pieces – and is the assistant in any other exercises.” 

Barry was first assigned set pieces under Lampard and he has made a substantial impact: Chelsea conceded 15 goals from dead ball situations last season – only the bottom three conceded more – but have cut that figure to six so far this season, with 10 games to go. 

They are on course to improve their attacking output from set plays, too. Having scored 11 last term, they’ve already scored nine this season. 

republic-of-ireland-training-session-cardiff-city-stadium-saturday-november-14th Stephen Kenny will soon have reinforcements on the training ground. Source: PA

Stephen Kenny earmarked Ireland’s need to improve on set plays from the moment he took the job – after Shane Duffy scored from a corner against Bulgaria in September, Kenny noted it was the first corner Ireland had scored from since in almost three years – and that his side haven’t scored since accentuates the point. 

Ireland’s throw-ins might change under Barry, too. 

Barry co-authored an academic paper titled “The undervalued set piece: Analysis of soccer throw-ins during the English Premier League 2018-19 season”, in which he contributed to a study of 16,154 throw-ins and found the sides who retained possession most often on their own throws finished higher in the table. The least efficient throw-ins, he found, were those that went forwards and long, so the days of Irish players chucking the ball up the line may be coming to an end. 

The study concludes that attacking sides should throw the ball laterally or backwards to have a better chance of retaining possession, while on an opponent’s throw, the defending side should press high and cut off options around the taker, forcing them to throw it up the line. 

Irish international Jack Byrne spent six months working with Barry at Wigan, and has sounded out his present Apoel team-mate Joe Garner – also a Wigan alumnus – on the new coach. 

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“Joe Garner had him for the full season at Wigan under Paul Cook and he said he was absolutely brilliant”, says Byrne. “Joe said he does a lot of work on throw ins and I think that’s where Lampard saw his presentation on the coaching side of it.

“He’s obviously impressed a lot of people. Anthony Barry is sound, he was always very good to me, and very helpful, hopefully I look forward to working with him again. From what Joe Garner told me, he said he was absolutely brilliant. They’re getting a really good coach to replace a really good coach because Damien, I’m sure all the lads will say great around the place, really great.” 

Higher-profile names including John O’Shea, Lee Carsley, and Mark Kennedy were all reportedly considered for the role vacated by Damien Duff, but ultimately Kenny and the FAI went for the hitherto little-known Barry. 

“Anthony is someone I’ve been aware of from his friendship with [Ireland's Chief Scout and Opposition Analyst] Ruaidhrí Higgins”, says Stephen Kenny. 

“They were in Coventry City’s youth team together and did their A-Licence together, so I was well aware of him, and also from when he assisted Paul Cook at Wigan.” 

Keith Andrews is Kenny’s assistant so Barry will effectively be number three, but he has a considerable void to fill: Duff’s exit was shrouded in mystery and rumour, but there was no doubt as to his popularity with the players. 

“I always wanted to do extra finishing work after training and he was always there, and ready to go”, says Hunt. “He would always have something in his head for us to do. 

“That season at Wigan we won the league and everyone had their part to play, but for me, it didn’t matter if it was snowing, if I wanted to stay out and do extra, no matter what it was, he would be the first to say, ‘Come on Noel, let’s go.’ 

“He would put on something totally different, enjoyable and game-related. As a coach, one detail I did take off him was we would always do things game-related. It would always be looking forward to the next game: what they would do and what I could do.

“That level of detail for a striker is something I carried on and did last year with our strikers last year at Swindon.” 

Barry will link up with Ireland ahead of what may be a critical period for Stephen Kenny, as the World Cup qualification campaign begins away to Serbia, followed by the home game with Luxembourg, games in which it will be imperative Ireland end their winless – and goalless – run. 

Injuries are already mounting – Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah, James McCarthy, John Egan, Jack Byrne and Darren Randolph are either out or highly doubtful – but Barry’s arrival may be a rare bit of good news.

“It is a pleasure to have him around, we absolutely do not want to miss him”, grins Tuchel. “So good for you guys, he will increase the level of coaching for sure.” 

For more great storytelling and analysis from our award-winning journalists, join the club at The42 Membership today. Click here to find out more >

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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