John Barnes: It won’t be a failure if England fail to reach the semi-finals
BettingOdds.com has teamed up with England legend and former Liverpool, Newcastle and Watford winger John Barnes to give us his insight over the course of this summer's Euro 2021 Championships…
The expectation pinned on England’s squad has intensified after the four points they’ve received from their first two games of Euro 2021 has left them effectively with a place in the knockout stages of the competition.
Despite their start to the tournament, England legend John Barnes believes that it shouldn’t be classed as a failure if the national team fail to reach the semi-finals of the competition.
Continuing our series of interviews with the former England international, John tells us why we shouldn’t expect the national team to reach the final of Euro 2021, why Ousamane Dembele would be a perfect match for Liverpool and how the opportunity arose for him to manage Celtic.
England have made a decent start to Euro 2020 and are expected to reach the round of 16. What would you class as an achievement for England in this tournament?
“Reaching the quarter-finals or the semi-finals and anything else is a bonus because that’s what we’ve done.
“When we say things like ‘We should be getting to the final’, well then look at the Champions League or the FA Cup for example, people say things like ‘Oh well we should have a good cup run’, how can you predict a good cup run when you don’t know who you’re going to play?
“What if Tottenham thinks they’re going to have a good cup run, but then they draw Manchester City away in the third round. Chances are that Manchester City are going to beat them and advance to the next round.
“In regards to the European Championships and the seedings and the group stages, the top seeds will get through to the quater-finals, but once you’re at that stage, if the other group stage
didn’t go your way, then you can be playing a team like France earlier on in the tournament than you expected. That’s why people shouldn’t be demanding England to reach the final of Euro 2020 or win it.
“What you should say is that with the way the seeding is at the tournament and the players we have, we should at least be reaching the quarter-finals or the semi-finals and with a bit of luck we can beat teams like Belgium or France. Should we beat them? Well on paper no as they’re higher ranked than we are, so do we believe that just because we’re England we should win?
“England have been very consistent of late in getting to where they should get to.”
Rumours recently surfaced linking Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann with a cut-price move to Liverpool. Can you see that transfer happening?
“Anything can happen in football. You talk about Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Manchester United, but Griezmann to Liverpool? We’ve been linked with Ousamane Dembele and I personally believe that would be a better fit. A because of his age and B because of the type of player he is.
“Dembele’s quick, he’s fast and he’s like both Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Because of the style of football that Liverpool play, then that’s why I think Dembele would suit us more than Antoine Griezmann.
“If Liverpool however did go for a player of Griezmann’s quality then that would be great, but if the decision was up to me then I would go for Dembele.”
Harvey Elliott was outstanding during his loan spell at Blackburn Rovers last season. Can you see him breaking into the Liverpool first team next season?
“I’ve seen Harvey Elliott a lot when he was playing at Liverpool and I know what a good player he is. Is he going to play in one of those front three positions for Liverpool? No he’s not.
“Just because Phil Foden has done it at Manchester City and he’s English doesn’t mean that every good player who is young and English is going to break into the top teams.
“I can’t see Harvey breaking into Liverpool’s team and playing regularly. If he wants to come back next year and be a squad player then that’s fine, but even though he’s had a good season at Blackburn, I don’t think he’s going to come back to Liverpool and push for regular football.”
Onto your former team Newcastle, their talisman Allan Saint-Maximin has recently voiced his concerns at Newcastle’s transfer policy. Do you think he will depart the club if things don’t improve and do you believe he’s good enough to play for one of the Premier League’s ‘big six’?
“He’s been fantastic for Newcastle. He’s been incredible for Newcastle. His return from injury really helped them at the backend of the season and got them out of a bad situation.
“I’m pleased for the fans and I’m pleased for Steve Bruce because under difficult circumstances when the harmony wasn’t right because of the relationship the fans have with the owner, I think they did well to stay up. There was a lot of negativity surrounding the whole situation and they did well to come out of that and Saint-Maximin had a big part to play in that.
“He has to choose his club and Newcastle is the right club for him because they give him the ball and say ‘do what you want’ and he won’t be able to do that at a big club, he will have to play in a system.
“He can do what he wants, dribble when he wants and they won’t criticise him. He won’t be able to do that at a bigger club so I can’t see him going to one of the ‘big six’.”
Another of your former clubs Watford are reportedly in the market for a new forward. Can you think of a striker Watford could sign?
“If there’s a name that everybody knows, who’s going to be a fantastic player, he’s not going to go to Watford, with all due respect. All the top strikers want to go to bigger clubs. It’s going to have to be a name that nobody really knows, whether it’s a player from the Championship or abroad.
“Watford seem to have a really good handle on players from abroad, nevermind strikers, and that’s probably the route to go. It’ll be a player that I’ve never heard of. Look at Sarr, for example. I had never heard of him before but look at the effect that he’s had. It wouldn’t surprise me if Watford gets a player no one’s heard of, who does well.”
Celtic provided you with your first job in management, with Kenny Dalglish your director of football. How did this come about? When were you first approached?
“If you know Kenny Dalglish he’s a man of few words. I hadn’t heard from Kenny since he had left Newcastle. He had left and I stayed another year. He just phoned and said “I’ve taken over at Celtic. Do you want to come as head coach?”. That was it. That’s how Kenny is. And I said, “How you doing Ken? Nice to hear from ya! Hope the family are all well! I do want to get into coaching as you know, but, you know…” and he said, “Just let me know.” And he put the phone down.
“There was no discussion to be had. I asked him to give me a couple of weeks to think about it, so he phoned a couple of weeks later and said, “Well, are you coming or what?” and I went, “OK, yeah.” There was no negotiation, nothing to be done, and that’s how it came out, as simple as that. That’s what Kenny does. It’s similar to when I signed for Liverpool. He said, “Do you want to come to Liverpool?”. I went, “Yeah.” He said, “OK. Here’s your contract.”
And finally, what did you take into the Celtic job with you from what your previous managers taught you?
“Watford’s organisation. Liverpool just looked at players. They have good players, and they just allow the players to be who they are. They didn’t really do tactics or coaching. I had been playing for England for five years before I went to Liverpool, therefore I was the finished article. Nowadays what happens is, a player plays one good season at a club, he’ll cost £40m, then you’ll see the inconsistency. You have to show a level of consistency before you get to go to Liverpool. Peter Beardsley was the same. Bryan Robson at Manchester United, he had six years at West Brom beforehand. When they buy you they know you’re going to be the finished article because they’re not going to coach you. You’re going to fit into what they want.
“With lesser players, or at other clubs, you’re going to have to be coached and be organised. That’s what I learnt, with the humility. When you have a superstar like Henrik Larsson, unfortunately for me, as much as he is a superstar, he saw himself just like his teammates. Getting the balance right and being your own person. I looked at it from a more tactical and technical point of view of how I wanted my team to play, which obviously wasn’t going to be like Watford, for example, because they were a very different brand of football, but in terms of the organisation of players understanding what’s required in terms of position, getting the players to fit into what I want. I was trying to get an identity to the way we play.
“I always say, if you were to look at a football match on television and all of the players and kits were blacked out, to just see XI against XI, you’d still be able to see that it’s Liverpool, that’s it’s Manchester City, the way they play. You wouldn’t be able to see any other team.
“I went to watch Ajax train for a week, and I remember seeing Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf when they were young. They said that when they were eight, nine, ten, they played the same way as the first team, because we understood the roles that they had to play. And they had to play in every position. When you understand the requirements of every position, that’s when you can play as a team. And that’s what Jurgen Klopp means when he says it’s like an orchestra. But that’s really what I got from Graham Taylor. Everybody understood their roles. I tried to implement it, though you’re not given much time, and I wasn’t given much time, because I was only there until January and once our two most influential players, Paul Lambert and Henrik Larsson, got injured, then it was just fighting fires, just trying to get the harmony and the togetherness.
“Unfortunately in Scotland, if one team’s doing well, the other is a disaster. We won 11 of our first 13 games, we were four points off Rangers, but even throughout that whole period I was having question marks about the team I was playing and there was a lot of unhappiness at Celtic then because of money.
“The Celtic players weren’t being paid a lot of money, whereas the Rangers players were (which is why they got themselves into trouble and got themselves relegated) so we couldn’t compete with them. But I felt with time, the next season we’d get stronger, but unfortunately, things didn’t work out. I left in January, interestingly with a 65% win rate, which was the second best after Jock Stein at the time. I don’t think Steven Gerrard at Rangers had a win percentage like that until this season. Instead of the illusion of disaster, look at the reality of what happened.