The coronavirus pandemic has been bad news for most people, but in January, it proved good news for Louie Barry.
The Aston Villa striker, then 17, made headlines as he scored against Liverpool in the FA Cup, bursting through on goal and finishing clinically on his first-team debut.
Villa were depleted after a Covid-19 outbreak and were forced to select a team packed with academy players for a third-round tie up against a Liverpool side boasting Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and other stars.
- Kaizer Chiefs player ratings after Royal AM loss: Mathoho and Cardoso calamitous
- Former Kaizer Chiefs ace Mahlangu questions Billiat's attitude
- Orlando Pirates player ratings after Chippa United win: Mabaso outstanding, Jele struggles
- Odegaard on target as Arsenal 'change the narrative' by battling their way to vital victory at Burnley
That trio all netted in an eventual 4-1 win for the Reds, but so did Barry, levelling the game at 1-1 in the 41st minute with a goal he will never forget. There will be many more to come, too
"He does something like that in training every day,” observed Mark Delaney, the Villa academy coach who was in charge for the Liverpool game, with Dean Smith also forced into quarantine.
Barry has a low centre of gravity, is quick, direct, and can finish with both feet. In many ways he is reminiscent of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp certainly thought so.
“Little Jamie Vardy was a proper threat,” he told talkSport after the game at Villa Park.
While Barry and his father, Mark, are Villa supporters, it all began for him at nearby West Brom, at the age of six.
He played as a striker from the start, and fixed his sights on English forwards Wayne Rooney and Vardy as inspiration, while also, inevitably, following the exploits of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The forward was ‘unplayable’ when in action at school in his hometown of Sutton Coldfield, a few miles northeast of Birmingham, scoring relentlessly until he had to be substituted just to bring some balance to games.
West Brom were desperate to keep Barry, but there is not much you can do when the world’s biggest clubs, such as Barcelona, come knocking. The Baggies were only awarded £235,000 in compensation when Barry left The Hawthorns, and Barca were uncooperative when it came to paying even that.
Barry could have joined Paris Saint-Germain, and his family turned down a huge offer from the French side in favour of Barcelona, who spoke of plans for his development. Barry even underwent a medical in Paris but Jose Mari Bakero and Guillermo Amor convinced the family to choose Catalunya instead.
“If Barca call, you can’t turn them down,” a source close to the player tells Goal.
Check out football's best wonderkids with NXGN:
Barry became the first English player to live at La Masia, but the dream quickly soured, and six months later he was gone.
His time at Barcelona was seen as frustrating rather than a failure, though, and the club wanted to keep him, but Barry hungered for more minutes elsewhere.
Sources say that Barca broke promises over playing time and never gave the forward the chance he deserved in Franc Artiga’s Under-19s team.
Barry was 16, and easily the youngest player in the side, which counted against him as the coach picked older options. Barry also played differently to Spanish strikers, making runs in behind that went ignored, while driving forward with the ball is not always encouraged at Barcelona, who relish combination moves.
The Catalans maintain he should have been more patient and waited for opportunities, but Barry’s camp believe Barca signed him merely because he was the best young striker in Europe and did not want other clubs to take him, not believing that he would walk away so quickly.
“Louie wasn’t happy with the time he was given, and justifiably so,” a source involved in the deal that took him to Camp Nou tells Goal. “He always played well and got some goals. His team-mates thought he was a great striker.
“Louie was happy to be at Barca but wasn’t willing to wait another year for his chance. He went to Villa and it already looks like a good move.”
Liverpool and Manchester United were also trying to sign him from Barcelona in January 2020, but Villa - who paid an initial £880,000 ($1.1m) - made sense, given they are the club that Barry's family support.
After netting the famous goal against Liverpool, Barry swapped shirts with Fabinho, before realising he had made a mistake.
“I remembered that it was my debut shirt!” he told BT Sport. “Credit to Fabinho, he gave me his shirt too. So I got them both."
As well as that first-team strike, Barry netted 19 goals for Villa's youth sides in 2020-21, including 13 in 17 games for the U23s in Premier League 2.
He also hit five goals and laid on four assists in six FA Youth Cup appearances last term, helping the club win the competition for the first time in 19 years, while Villa recently extended his contract until 2024 with a view to giving him more opportunities with the senior squad this coming campaign.
“Just to have that experience of playing at the academy in Barcelona will have helped him, and he would’ve learned a lot technically and it showed as well in his performance,” former Villa and England striker Gabriel Agbonlahor told Football Insider.
“Now he’s back at the club he loves. I’m sure he’ll go and become a Villa star of the future.”
Despite his Barcelona stint’s brevity, Barry certainly developed new skills at the club. He is now capable of operating in wider areas, with Villa’s youth team using him on the left wing at times, while he is also more patient and involved in build-up play, even if the meat and drink of his game remains the same.
Get in behind, and stick the ball away. It’s a skill that will not go out of fashion, in England at least.