Gareth Barry says a determination to retire on his own terms – and not because of injury - was the driving force behind his return to full fitness.
The midfielder, who recently penned a new deal at the Club, embarks on his 23rd season as a professional fuelled by the same hunger with which he began his first, having fought back from knee surgery.
The former England international overcame both physical and mental challenges to prove his fitness following a six-month lay-off and earn a new Albion contract, admitting the thought of retirement crossed his mind during the rehabilitation period.
But Barry insists he is now in a position where he’s feeling “good” and excited to contribute to Slaven Bilić’s impressive side.
“As I have always done, I’ve just carried on and taken things a season at a time,” said the 38-year-old.
“If the body allows you to carry on playing at a level that you’re happy to be playing at then there’s no need to stop.
“I’ve come through a few tough challenges over the last few months with the injury, but I didn’t want to finish my career on an injury and I’m happy to have been able to get my fitness back.
“I made my mind up as soon as I had the operation on my knee. I didn’t want to finish with an injury.
“There are plenty of challenges you face, especially mentally. It’s natural for things to run through your head like having retirement as an option.
“That would’ve been the easy route for me though. I wanted to work as hard as I could to get back to fitness and keep playing.
“I have a lot to thank the Albion medical staff for. I was out of contract but they still worked tirelessly. There were a lot of sessions over the summer when they could have been on holiday.
“A lot of hard work went into getting me right and there was a lot of pain in my knee so the thought of retiring comes into your head. Thankfully that pain has gone and I’m in a position where I am feeling good.
“You need reassurance sometimes from lots of different people but it’s all mainly inside your own head. You want to get over the pain. Sometimes it takes longer than you want because everyone wants to be back fit as soon as possible. You have to be patient but if you work hard then the rewards will come.
“I’m happy to have come out the other side.
Barry added: “I’ve been training with the lads for a while now. I’m excited to be involved with the group of players who are playing so well at the moment and with a lot of confidence.
“The players the manager has brought in are exciting and there’s a great mix in the squad. I’m really looking forward to getting back involved.
“From day one Slaven has been fantastic. He told me to get myself fit but don’t rush it and we’ll have another conversation.
“In terms of now, it’s up to me to show the manager what I can do. It’s not about what I have done in the past and I’ve always worked like that. It’s what the manager and the fans will be seeing from now on so I’ll be looking to put some good performances in in training and in games."
Barry played an hour of an internal training game last Saturday before completing 60 minutes against Port Vale in a Central League Cup tie at the training ground on Tuesday afternoon.
The Baggies will be without the suspended duo of Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and Barry is putting himself forward for selection.
“I feel good. There’s nothing like being out there in front of the fans and the adrenaline rushing through.
“We had a training game on Saturday and another game on Tuesday. I’ve come through both of those unscathed.
“The knee is feeling good and I’m looking forward to getting back whenever I am needed.
“I’ll never put myself out of a game. If the manager asked me what I was thinking in terms of Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, I’ve always put myself up for selection so it’s then down to the manager and the coaching staff to make a decision on the squad.”