In the first part of a series of interviews about Thomas Tuchel’s coaching staff, we hear from Anthony Barry.
The 36-year-old joined Chelsea in the summer of 2020 while Frank Lampard was head coach after impressing our record goalscorer while they were working on a coaching course together. Barry came with a growing reputation as a set pieces specialist and quickly made an impression on peers and players alike.
When the German succeeded Lampard in January 2021, he remained part of Tuchel’s staff and played an important role in our Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup successes. Earlier this year he was handed a role with the Belgium national team, which he combines with his work at Chelsea.
Here we talk about the former midfielder’s playing career, his early move into coaching, how he developed a passion for set pieces and why he’s so thankful to be part of Tuchel’s team…
Let’s start with your playing career where you played over 300 games as a senior and played all the way to League One. How did you experience this time?
“I didn’t really enjoy my playing career looking back on it now, but it was a great education for me. It was something that prepared me to always be grateful for all I have now and for the opportunity I have to work at this level, to know what it’s like to work at the lower levels be.
“For me, the training was absolutely what I needed. As a player I probably thought I was a bit better than I actually was and so today I can look back on a rather mediocre career.
“I never really felt like I had the mental qualities to be a top player. Maybe I had a bit of talent or technical ability to do it a little bit better, but not really the mental state these guys have now. I was not blessed with that.”
When did you start thinking about a career as a coach?
“I suffered a serious injury when I was 24 when I dislocated my turntable and was told my career was over. I came back after about 17 months but I knew I would never reach the same level again and that’s when I started coaching and did all the badges very early.
“I was fortunate to get a first-team coaching role at the age of 30 to go to Wigan with Paul Cook. At the time I was the youngest first-team coach in the country and it was a bit lucky that a manager spotted me working in academy football and on courses. He gave me the head start that allowed me to pursue a career at a young age.”
During that first coaching role at Wigan you have worked alongside experienced players including our own Reece James who went on loan in 2018/19.
‘Yes that’s right. We took Reecey as a sophomore after we got promoted from League One. He spoke a lot fewer words when he received the Man of the Match award!
“But he was without a doubt the standout player in the league, even as a teenager. We used him in several positions and it was like he was the best player on the pitch, so we put him in the main midfield position where he excelled.
“In the year after we took over Dujon Sterling we had some experience with some Chelsea players. Wigan was just the perfect base for me with a head coach in Paul Cook who taught me so much and gave me such a platform to work from. He gave me so much time on the pitch to practice and really find myself as a coach so I’m happy to look back on three years.
It’s probably fair to say that you then developed a reputation as a standards specialist, but how did that specialization come about for you?
“It was during the UEFA Pro License course, where at the end you have a kind of dissertation project and I decided to look at throw-ins. At the time in Wigan we were trying to get more possession in the game and as a coach I was just looking for areas where I could maybe develop the team further in the league and how we could get more possession.
“I started looking at all the possible options and eventually got to set pieces – can we use free-kicks or throw-ins? – that’s when I ended up with interjections and started to study them more closely. Liverpool had just hired a throw-in coach that I had read about and I really just wanted to know if they matter that much or not.
“We analyzed an entire season in the Premier League and looked at a total of 17,000 throw-ins. Some of the results were truly groundbreaking for football in terms of how important throw-ins really are. In a game, there’s an average throw-in every two minutes, and if you do an average of 45 things in a game, they have to have an impact.
While studying for your UEFA professional license you developed a relationship with Frank Lampard which of course ultimately led to your move to Chelsea…
“I was on the course with Frank and Jody Morris for two years, but Frank’s call was totally unexpected. He just said he enjoyed my work and we spoke for a while towards the end of the season.
“Then the following summer, after the pro license ended, he approached me. Wigan had gone into administration even though we were doing well in the league and obviously it was a terrible time for me but eventually it gave me the opportunity to join Chelsea. I will always be grateful to Frank for that.”
Other opportunities have continued to arise, most notably at international level where you have worked with the Republic of Ireland and most recently Belgium. How did these roles come about?
“At Ireland they thought I was leaving the club with Frank and they approached me to come on as an assistant manager. Once they realized I was staying with Thomas, the club allowed me to take on both roles as a young manager to gain experience and develop.
“It was a fantastic experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. They had a great group of people, working class people like me, and there was a team spirit that was absolutely intoxicating and made them a pleasure to work with.
“Then another opportunity arose where Roberto Martinez and Belgium were observing my work and approached me around January of this year. I left Ireland with a heavy heart but I felt it was another opportunity to work with a world class setup and of course go to a World Championship.
After Thomas Tuchel came on board in January 2021, you were quickly accepted into the new group of coaches and have remained a key figure ever since. How have the last 18 months been for you working with Thomas and his staff?
‘I’m now an adopted German and in return I’m tutoring the Scouse boys! I am very happy to be part of this group of employees. Talking about them and their work is not the right place to start, because talking about them as people is the most important thing.
“From Thomas to Arno [Michels]benny [Weber] and Yogi [Zsolt Low], these are top people. I couldn’t be more grateful for the way they treated me and the way they put me on staff.
“The level of work they do, for a young coach like me, to be there, to help and to share my ideas in a circle like this is just top notch.”