An interview with John Barnes
Written by EddieC, January 13, 2014
I was lucky enough to be invited down to Football Fancast’s League Cup party last Wednesday, where the special guest was Anfield legend John Barnes. I was able to catch a few minutes alone with Digger to ask a few questions on behalf of Kopworld’s readers – many of them contributed by users on our forum.
EddieC: John, thank you for taking the time to speak to me this evening. I’ve been getting opinions from our members on the questions they would like to ask you, and one of the most common has been what is your favourite memory from your time at Liverpool? Are there any memories in particular that stand out for you from your time at the club?
John Barnes: There are many individual memories, but one of the lessons I learned at Liverpool was that the continuance and longevity of performances is what makes a successful player. The great individual moments are meaningless when you look at the bigger picture. Winning my first league championship, winning the FA Cup, winning player of the year at Liverpool – these individual moments are meaningless when you look at the experiences I had over a period of time at Liverpool for ten years, and the lessons it taught me in terms of how to be successful. The biggest thing that stood out for me was when I won my first league championship and I expected a big party, Ronnie Moran came in with the medals in a plastic bag and all he said was ‘pre-season training starts on July 7th’. If you make a big song and dance about it, all that does is limit your success. If you ask a player ‘what is your ambition?’ and they answer ‘to win the World Cup’, if they win the World Cup at 17 then they have fulfilled their ambition. And what do you do then – retire? So the key has to be the repetition of success rather than individual memories.
EC: You mention the repetition of success, and of course that was something that Liverpool fans were used to when you joined the club in 1989. Your former club Watford however had not been so blessed in the trophies department – was there a big difference when making the step up to such a successful club?
JB: It was a big culture shock. There wasn’t that much difference in terms of the football, but what stood out for me immediately was the size of the club. Watford were able to fill their stadium, but the supporters were all from Watford and the surrounding areas – with Liverpool it was global. So in terms of the football it was very similar, but the magnitude of the club took some getting used to.
EC: You left Liverpool for Newcastle in 1997, but this was in the latter stages of your career. Whilst in your prime there must have been numerous clubs that would have liked to acquire your services, but was there any solid interest from anyone? If there was, were you tempted to leave Liverpool earlier than you did?
JB: When John Toshack was manager of Real Madrid they came in and tried to sign me in 1990, but I didn’t want to leave Liverpool. And in 1992 – just before I ruptured my achilles tendon – there was interest from some Italian clubs. But after my injury I had to change the way I played, and this meant I was never going to go and play for an Italian or Spanish club. Before coming to Liverpool I wanted to play for an Italian club – Serie A then was what the Premier League is today, the best league in the world – but once I arrived at Liverpool I decided I could achieve everything I wanted to as a player. We weren’t in Europe at the time due to the ban on English clubs, but I was confident we would be back in the European Cup once the ban was lifted. Of course by the time we were allowed back in Europe we weren’t winning the league anymore to qualify for the European Cup.
EC: Of course the lifting of the European ban coincided with Liverpool’s drop in form, which brings us nicely on to the next question. As someone who was at the club in the early 90′s, is there anything in particular that you think led to our fall from grace?
JB: I think we tried to radicalise and change things too quickly. Graeme Souness had a lot to do with the emergence of players like Fowler, Redknapp and McManaman as he gave them all their chance, but he tried to bring them in too quickly. What needed to happen was we needed to integrate them slowly, and get some of the older players out. But getting rid of Whelan, McMahon, Houghton and Beardsley – when they were all 30 or 31 at the most – all at the same time, meant that a lot of these players came in at the same time with not a lot of experience. When [Ian] Rush or Whelan came into the side they were two youngsters coming into an experienced side, you don’t want to put six youngsters into a side and then expect them to go and win the league. So I think we just tried to change too much too soon on the pitch.
EC: Regarding your eventual departure to Newcastle, the season before you left Liverpool you had only missed three league games all season – so some fans were surprised to see you go. What were the circumstances behind your departure? Was it your decision, the club’s decision, or a combination of both?
JB: Well we signed Paul Ince that summer, and it was made clear that I would no longer be a regular – but I wanted to play football. The door was open for me to stay at Liverpool but I wanted to be playing football regularly, I wasn’t ready to retire so I had to move on.
EC: After a couple of seasons at Newcastle your next move was to join Celtic as their manager at the turn of the century, and after a long break we then saw you return as manager of Jamaica before moving on to Tranmere. Is coaching/management still something that interests you, or have we now seen the last of your direct involvement in football?
JB: I would still like to do it, but it depends on getting the opportunities. If you look at "The Chosen One" and everything he achieved at Everton, a bit of a bad run and now he’s under pressure. So if someone who has achieved so much can struggle to be given time, you can imagine what it would be like for an inexperienced manager. So football management is absolutely something I would still like to do, but are you going to be given a fair crack of the whip? Probably the answer is no.
EC: Moving on to the current Liverpool setup: Brendan Rodgers – are you a fan?
JB: Brendan Rodgers is doing a fantastic job. He’s put in place a template so that with or without Suarez or Sturridge we can still compete. At the start of the season we didn’t have Suarez and we were doing well, now we don’t have Sturridge and again we are doing well. What he’s doing is creating a method of playing where with our best players we can do better, but even without them we can still be consistent. We’re beating the teams we should beat and we’re playing consistently well, and that’s down to the system – not the formation, but the system. That is what all clubs want, yes we want better players but you can’t say that without the best players we can’t compete. We shouldn’t be a club that relies on great players – no club should do that. So yes, I’m very happy with Brendan Rodgers.
EC: Luis Suarez is obviously the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, and there is no doubting he deserves the headlines he’s grabbing. Beyond our Uruguayan magician though, who most impresses you out of our current crop of players?
JB: Philippe Coutinho, he’s been fantastic. I think in the past we’ve relied to heavily on players like Torres & Gerrard, then Suarez & Gerrard, but when you look at the team now we have players like Coutinho and also Daniel Sturridge offering creativity all over the pitch. Suarez of course is great, but if he’s missing or having a bad day we now have other players ready to fill the void.
EC: Finally before I leave you in peace, you’ve played in a number of big games throughout your career, but if you could have played in one game you were not a part of which one would it be?
JB: The 1965 FA Cup final, that’s when the Liverpool legend started. People always look to the modern era – games like Istanbul – but you have to remember Liverpool enjoyed a lot more success in the past, and ’65 was where it all started.http://kopworld.net/lfc-news/an-interview-with-john-barnes/1964
I do really think now that we are playing some of our best football in decades we need this man in some capacity involved. What a Legend thought I would share this with everyone!