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John Barnes: When I played the Euros were harder than the World Cup

John Barnes believes that the European Championships used to be harder than the World Cup.
John Barnes believes that the European Championships used to be harder than the World Cup.

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…

England can seal qualification to the knockout stages of Euro 2021 with a victory over Scotland on Friday evening.

Reflecting on his own experiences of being a former England international, John Barnes has been speaking to BettingOdds.com about being part of England’s Euro 88 and 1990 World Cup squads, explaining why he believes the European Championships used to be a harder competition than the global tournament. 

Continuing our series of interviews with the England legend, John tells us why the old European Championship format used to result in the national team facing harder opponents over the course of the competition, why he believes Brighton’s Yves Bissouma would be a perfect addition for Liverpool and why he would advise Erling Haaland to move to La Liga instead of the Premier League.


You were in the England squad for Euro 88 which saw your side lose their opening three games as the national team was eliminated from the tournament at the first opportunity. Two years later you were a member of the England squad that achieved a semi-final finish. What changed in those two years?

“In many respects the European Championships are actually harder than the World Cup, especially back then.

“Now the Euros involve lots of smaller teams but back then the tournament included a smaller amount of really good teams. In 1988, we had the USSR who didn’t just involve Russia but the whole of the USSR and we also had Holland who were the eventual winners of the tournament.

“The disappointment came from that game against Ireland. In that game we had so many chances and we lost 1-0 and their goalkeeper Packie Bonner was man of the match. If we had won that game then we could have potentially gone through. 

“So going into Italia 90, nothing much had changed because we were the same team, but looking at the games we were actually quite fortunate. Cameroon should have beaten us, we were 2-0 down and then they had a man sent off and they were very naive to allow us to come back and beat them. 

“When we beat Belgium 1-0, they were actually the better team on the day but then David Platt scored a worldie. We were fortunate to go through. 

“Then the game when we were at our best was against Germany, but we lost. That’s what happens in cup football.

“I think with the England teams back then such as the team in 86 where we got to quarter-finals and the current England side, if you’re one of the top 10-20 teams in the World, then you should be getting to the quarter-finals and that’s what England do. We get to the quarter-finals, we get to the semi-finals and with a bit of luck we could go on to win it.

“We got to the semi-finals in 2018 and lost to Croatia, but when we play teams that are better than us such as Belgium in the group stages, we lost. Who we beat to get to the semi-finals was Sweden and Colombia. Should we not have got there by beating Sweden and Colombia?

“Should England get to a World Cup final, no we shouldn’t because we’re not one of the top two teams in the world, but with a bit of luck we can. What we should be doing is at least reaching either the quarter or semi-finals, which is what we will do at Euro 2020 and it’s what we’ve done in the past.”


Euro 2021 Betting

Liverpool are rumoured to be in the market for a new central midfielder this summer after Georginio Wijnaldum departed for PSG earlier this month. Who do you believe your former club should sign as a replacement?

“I think Yves Bissouma would be the perfect fit for Liverpool. In terms of what Liverpool want from their midfielders, Bissouma is very strong and he’s very good on the ball.

“He’s more of a defensively minded midfielder, but if you look at the way Liverpool’s front three play, then you don’t necessarily need an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, because if Liverpool had that then Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane wouldn’t have the opportunity to score as many goals and it would affect the way they play.

“That’s why I believe that Bissouma would suit Liverpool and that front three perfectly. He would also be a shield in front of the back four and for me, he and Ousmane Dembele would be the perfect additions for Liverpool next season.”


Andrew Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri are all examples of signings Jurgen Klopp has made for Liverpool from relegated Premier League clubs. Are there any players from relegated trio Fulham, Sheffield United and West Brom that you believe Liverpool could go for this summer or any player from those three teams that you believe can move to any other Premier League team in the transfer window?

“Not necessarily with Liverpool.

“Fulham have a few decent players. Ademola Lookman is a player I like and I thought he did well every time I saw him playing for them. He reminds me of Wilfried Zaha or Eberechi Eze, a player who’s good on the ball and can dribble and I thought Fulham’s style of play complimented the way he plays.

“However from the players who were relegated this season, I don’t imagine many of them will go to one of the top four or fives teams. Lookman however is one that I think could really fit in. 

“I can see Fulham, Sheffield United and West Brom all coming back up next season. Watford who were relegated last year kept hold of some of their main players such as Ismaila Sarr and now they’ve come straight back up. 

“I think most of those sides who have gone down will keep the majority of their best players to enable them to come straight back up next season.”


Rumours continue to persist linking Erling Haaland to the Premier League. He’s rumoured to be on Chelsea’s wish list, but which club do you believe he should join?

“I think it would cost less for one of Erling Haaland’s suitors to get him over the likes of Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe has proven it during his four years with Paris Saint-Germain, whilst Erling Haaland has only been doing it for the past year or so at Borussia Dortmund.

“Haaland’s stock is very high and Borussia Dortmund are a selling club. As much as they say they’d want £150 million, do you honestly think a club like Dortmund would turn down an offer of £80-£90 million?

“I think Haaland moving on is much more likely than Mbappe as PSG will remain a top club and will be challenging again next season, so if Mbappe stays it’s not going to hurt his career at all. 

“If Haaland stays at Dortmund another year then he could potentially score less goals and they may do nothing in Europe and then Dortmund would have missed the opportunity to make more money on him?

“I think Haaland would be better suited to one of the big clubs in Spain. It’s interesting because if you look at him as a player, he is a very physical player and he bullies a lot of the players in Germany. In Spain you can do that but in the Premier League you can’t.

“In the Premier League a physical player is nothing because we have loads of physical players and not enough technical players, so if Haaland comes to England he’s not going to go and bully Brighton’s centre-backs, so for that reason I think he would have a much bigger impact in La Liga.”


What did you make of the rumoured Saudi Arabia takeover of your former club Newcastle United on a moral level?

“Morality left football a long time ago. From 1992 when the Premier League started and they wanted to break away from the first division because those sides wanted more money and they wanted to spend more money than everybody else. 

“Let’s not go down that whole route of morality. If you asked anyone if they’d want that kind of money coming into their football club I’m sure they’d say yes. I don’t look at any moral issues when it comes to football.

“The thing about football is that you can be forgiven for anything as long as you bring success. There is no morality in football.”


Onto Watford, another of your former clubs, can you see them staying up when they return to the Premier League next season?

“Yes but it’s going to be difficult. I think they were unlucky to be relegated last year with the manager and the way he left. If he had stayed, possibly things could have been different. 

“They have to understand they’re in a dogfight.  The season before when they got relegated will stand them in good stead to know what they have to do. They know they have to invest, which they will. They’ve got a good chance.”


Euro 2021 Betting
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