As a footballer, John Barnes has been there, done it all, and come back for more.
During his playing career in the 1980s and 1990s, the English Football Hall of Fame inductee overcame racism in the terraces to become a Liverpool legend with his skill, power and electrifying pace, winning two league and FA Cup titles along the way.
And now, after a few stints in coaching and management, Barnes is building a reputation as a football pundit, travelling the world, including to Malaysia, to lend his larger-than-life personality to football shows.
Luckily for me, I was able to catch up with him recently on the set of new Astro game show Football Overload – where Barnes was a guest on their first ever episode last Thursday – and managed to get his views on some of the stuff that’s been happening in football recently:
Q. English footballers have been grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently – prostitutes, love affairs …
A. It’s the same all over the world, just that in English football they get caught. You think in France, Spain and Italy that doesn’t happen? Of course it does! But with the media attention in England, it’s reported. So English football is different to any other football.
But it didn’t happen in my day. It’s a new culture. We didn’t drink or anything like that.
Q. Pepe Reina has hinted about leaving Liverpool. Anything Kenny Dalglish can do to make him stay?
A. Nothing at all, just as he could do nothing to keep Torres. If players decide that they want to leave, they have all the power. In the old days, clubs could persuade players to stay, whereas now when players want to go, clubs have got no control. So if Reina decides to leave, he will leave.
Q. Does that annoy you, how players today can just pack up and leave?
A. There’s no point getting annoyed. This is the way it is. I’m not one to say ‘back in my day this would never have happened’, because if I was playing now, and I was brought up in this environment, maybe I would do the same thing. So I can’t judge them based on what I did 20 years ago.
This is what modern football is all about. That’s why I say to fans, support the club, not the players. No matter how players say I love you and I’m gonna stay forever, if they get a better offer, 99% of them will go. The fans get upset – don’t get upset! Just keep supporting the club.
Q. You’ve been part of the Masters Football tour (friendly tournaments featuring retired footballers) in the past. Any chance players like Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard would do the same?
A. With the money they earn, and the money they can command, you won’t be able to afford them. You can afford us old guys, we’ll come over for a bit of a holiday, have a laugh and a joke; whereas players now will command too much money. They’ll lie on a beach somewhere, count their money and relax (when they retire).
Q. What’s your take on Roy Hodgson’s sacking?
A. He was not supported enough, by the fans, which affected performances. If Liverpool fans didn’t want to be in the position they are, they should have given Roy Hodgson more support.
Q. Have you thought about managing Liverpool someday?
A. I want to manage anyone. I want to get back involved in football, and that’s why I want to manage. So whether it’s Liverpool or Tranmere Rovers, if it’s another club, or another country somewhere, to be involved in football, you have to be prepared to take any job.
So yes, I want to manage Liverpool, who wouldn’t? But I would like to manage anyone.
Q. Who’s your best bet for the English Premier League title?
A. A couple weeks ago, it would have been 100% Manchester United. Now, still United, but not as sure.
R.AGE readers’ questions:
Here are some of the questions you guys gave us via Twitter, Facebook, etc. He gave some pretty good answers to them! Enjoy
Q. What do you think about Andy Gray and Richard Keys getting sacked over the sexist comments (about female assistant referee Sian Massey)? – Zheng Guan, Chelsea fan.
A. Anybody who has been involved in TV or radio, when they’re off air, will say certain things. Unfortunately for Gray and Keys, it was recorded, but of course there are lots of people like them who have said similar things who haven’t been caught because the mic’s been off.
Chip, Malaysian Liverpool fan and blogger based in Ireland — What do you think the role senior players (like Jamie Carragher) should have in determining the club’s choice of manager? – Chip, Malaysian Liverpool fan and blogger based in Ireland (http://skuterhijau.blogspot.com).
A. They should support whoever the manager is. The players’ responsisbilities is to that club, their salaries are being paid by that club and whoever the club decides to employ. Footballers should not have a say on who the manager is. They’re paid to play football.
… But do you think it happens (senior players influencing manager selection)?
It happens at unsuccessful clubs. It wouldn’t happen at Manchester United. Because once the players start to decide who the manager should be, that’s a recipe for disaster. If they decide they don’t like the manager, they’ll lose football matches, and the club won’t be successful. If they haven’t got a say, they perform, no matter who the manager is.
If the fans boo the manager, you can see what happens to performances on the field. So while the fans might not be booing the players, they may be booing Roy Hodgson, but it affects the team, and you see the team lose matches. Now the fans are cheering Kenny Dalglish, the players are now winning matches. So support has to come from the fans and everyone around the football club.
How did it feel like being the player that lost the ball which led to Michael Thomas’ goal in 1989? - Sandheep Nair, Gooner. (Note: Thomas’ injury-time goal for Arsenal, in the final game of the season, helped Arsenal pip Liverpool to the title on goal difference.)
A. I treat triumph and disaster in the same way. It was bad because we lost in the last minute, but the following year, we won the league. So I don’t look at incidents and say ‘that’s the worst moment in my career’.
I also ruptured my achilles tendon (which cost him a spot in Euro 1992). This happens in football. We lost a cup final to Manchester United, and you have John Terry slipping over and missing in the Champions League final – this is what football is all about. You have success, and you have to take the bad with the good. It’s not nice when it happened, but it wasn’t a disaster if you like, because football continues.
Q. Who’s your favourite #10 of all time? – Pete Chitchumnong, Liverpool fan, Bangkok
A. Diego Maradona. Best player I’ve played against. (he said this with a huge, proud grin on his face)
We threw some difficult, soul-searching questions important to Barnes and told him to give us the first answer that comes to mind. Here’s what we got:
Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
Pele or Maradona?
Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho
… Alex Ferguson or Kenny Dalglish?
A. [Pauses] Kenny Dalglish
Best player you’ve played with?
A. [Pauses... He's played with quite a few good ones... ] Ian Rush
Best full-back you’ve come up against?
A. Viv Anderson
Even as a United fan, it was great to meet such a legend, one of the greatest players to have ever graced a football pitch.
He was a riot, and a real nice guy too. I brought my Fernando Torres jersey along as a joke to see if he’d sign it. And he did! (FYI, the only reason why I have a Liverpool jersey is because I was supposed to interview Torres in England last summer and wanted him to sign it)
But he wouldn’t be caught dead having his picture taken with it. The club and all its fans are still obviously very dear to him. He took a bunch of pictures with everyone on the Football Overload set, but when I asked if we could pose together with the Torres jersey, he was like “no way”. He said he only signed it as a “favour” to me.
He said he won’t be able to join the Masters Football match in KL this time around, because he’ll be working in South Africa. But what I hear is that Steve McManaman and Robbie Folwer might be among the LFC legends coming this time. Let’s hope it really happens