Scenic Scouting: Hamza Barry
Football careers can often take a scenic route to the top. Whether it be a rags to riches story or a long, winding road with plenty of stops, it doesn't matter how you get there, as long as you get there.
23-year-old Hamza Barry started his career in Gambia with Gambia Ports Authority before joining Maltese side FC Valletta in July 2013. After an in and out 2013-2014 season, Valletta saw the best from Barry the following seasons, using him in an attacking midfield role. Starting only 18 league games, he racked up 10 goals and a few assists, with four games where he scored at least twice. Capping off a great season, he picked up the Maltese FA's Best Young Player award. All plain sailing, but the route would soon start to feature a few left turns.
His tremendous work in Malta didn't go unnoticed. After rejecting a new deal at Valletta, Hamza Barry signed a one-year deal with Cypriot side Apollon Limassol. A month after signing, having made a garnd total of zero appearances, he was sent on loan to an Israeli side, Maccabi Netanya. He'd play 21 times there, but it was reported at the time that, due to their poor start in the league, Barry was recalled by Apollon Limassol. In February 2016, Barry was back in Isreal again, having been sent to historic club, yet struggling team, in Hapoel Tel-Aviv. Ranked just two places above Maccabi Netanya at season's end, Barry would play 12 times without really impressing.
His third loan in 12 months would prove to be the most fruitful. In August 2016, Barry joined Croatian side Hajduk Split on loan, with an option to buy. Hajduk saw enough in the first season to activate the clause – for around €250,000 – and Barry signed a three-year deal. At Valletta, he was a getter of goals and a genuine attacking threat, but it would take a change of position to really bring the best out of Barry.
During his time in Israel and at Hajduk, he'd featured in a number of positions. After his time in Malta, we had seen him tried in attacking midfield, then out wide, but mainly in central midfield. None of those, I believe, were the best fit for him. After being tenuously linked with a move to West Ham United in the summer, the Gambian was moved to defensive role in midfield, and – whilst Hajduk have struggled – Barry has shone.
The Gambian international is a bully. Physically, he's strong, quick enough and a nightmare to get the ball off. Many have tried, many have failed. Potentially the most promising aspect of his game is how he reads the game off the ball in midfield; he may not man-mark, but he has a feel for where the ball will go, deceiving the passer into making what he thinks is a good pass, only to have it pick-pocketed with an interception or a robust tackle.
With the ball, Barry has the ability to cruise past opponents, but more important to his position is that he isn't wasteful; he doesn't have to go chasing his own mistakes like a lot of defensive midfielders. He wins the ball and keeps it. Barry completes 90 percent of his passes so far in the Croatian first division and, although passing percentage tells us very little in truth, it's almost a prerequisite of defensive midfielders to rank highly in such a metric.
His weaknesses are purely dependant on what position you judge him in: in a deeper role, he's great at picking out forwards, but in an advanced role, with the intensity and technical difficulty at a higher threshold, he tends to waste good opportunities to make the most impactful decisions on the ball. He can get caught ball-watching in his own third of the pitch when defending, which would need to be ironed out before stepping up in competition. He's likely to leave Hajduk sometime soon, but, for me, it's imperative that he's used as a defensive midfielder who can contribute to attacks, rather than a central midfielder who can contribute defensively.
Speaking of that next move, the talk of West Ham and the like is certainly misguided. He isn't ready to play Premier League football as of yet but is certainly ready for another step up. A move that would interest me is Rangers. Steven Gerrard has recruited Nikola Katić, Borna Barišić and Eros Grezda from Croatia in the summer. Adding Barry would be a perfect fit, but there will be numerous clubs after his signature in January and or the summer window. Hamza Barry has certainly taken a scenic route to success but he's firmly on his way.
You can follow Stewart on Twitter at footballstewart. Go follow him for more stuff like this.
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