John Barnes accepts Coaching Role
After making his departure from Liverpool in 1997, and retiring from competitive football in 2000, Liverpool veteran John Barnes has decided to join Robbie Fowler's coaching staff at Melwood, after a contract was offered to him last night.
Barnes left Watford. his first club, on 9 June 1987 in a £900,000 deal to join Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool, after appearing 233 times for the Hornets and scoring 65 goals. He joined at the same time as England team-mate Peter Beardsley and linked up with new signings John Aldridge andRay Houghton to form one of the most formidable attacking lines of Liverpool's history, which was completed a year later when Ian Rush re-signed for Liverpool. Barnes made his debut for the Reds, along with Beardsley, on 15 August 1987 in the 2–1 league win over Arsenal at Highbury. In 9 minutes Barnes and Beardsley combined to set up Aldridge for a goal. Barnes' first strike for the club came a month later on 12 September as the Reds beat Oxford United 2–0 at Anfield.
In his first season at Anfield, Liverpool coasted to the League title, remaining undefeated for the first 29 games of the season and ending up with just two defeats. However, the double was surprisingly thwarted by Wimbledon who beat the champions 1–0 in the FA Cup final. Barnes was a key contributor and indeed performer on the Anfield Rap; a rap on the club's traditional Cup final song. It reached Number 3 in the UK charts. During that season, Barnes was racially abused by a section of Everton supporters in the Merseyside derby at Anfield, which led to Everton chairman Philip Carter disowning the offending supporters, branding them "scum". This was not the first time that Barnes had suffered racial abuse from fans of rival clubs, as he had been regularly barracked by fans of other teams when still playing for Watford.
Barnes scored 15 league goals in his first season at Anfield, second only to John Aldridge at the club. He was voted overwhelmingly PFA Player of the Year. He also collected a league title medal, as Liverpool finished champions with just two league defeats all season. In particular Barnes, Beardsley, Houghton and Aldridge were instrumental in Liverpool's 5–0 win over Nottingham Forest on 13 April 1988, a game which Tom Finney described as "the finest exhibition I’ve seen the whole time I’ve played and watched the game. You couldn’t see it bettered anywhere, not even in Brazil." Team mate Aldridge said in his autobiography that Bobby Robson had at the time claimed Barnes was as good as George Best at his peak with Manchester United 20 years earlier.
The following two seasons brought further success. Liverpool won the FA Cup with a 3–2 victory over Merseyside rivals Everton, with Barnes creating goals from the left wing for Ian Rush, and was instrumental during the extra time period. They lost the title to Arsenal with seconds remaining. Barnes played the whole of the title decider at Anfield, with the move resulting in Michael Thomas' goal occurring immediately after Barnes had lost possession of the ball attempting to dribble past Kevin Richardson in the last moments of the game.In April 1989, after the Hillsborough disaster claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans, Barnes attended several funerals and visited the injured in hospital. He pulled out of an England international friendly in order to fulfil these public duties.
Barnes, in his early years at Liverpool, had to deal with racist abuse from opposing supporters and far-right groups – a photograph was once taken of Barnes, in full Liverpool kit and mid-match, casually backheeling away a banana which had been hurled at him during a derby match with Everton at Goodison Park. He also claimed Liverpool supporters had written to him not to join the club, as well as being abused by opposition players. On occasion he overheard a team mate make a racist remark towards other black players in opposition teams. On one of his first times at Anfield, Barnes claimed that the tea lady had, intentionally or unintentionally served all the players in the lounge tea except from him and he made a joke about it by asking light heartedly "Is it because I'm black?" At the time, he was only the second black player to play for Liverpool, and the first to have been a regular player. The only other black player to have appeared for Liverpool at the time was Howard Gayle, who played a mere five games for the Reds at the beginning of the 1980s.
In 1992, Liverpool won the FA Cup again but Barnes missed the final with an Achilles tendon injury, which he later cited in his autobiography as dulling his acceleration, affecting his ability to push off from a still position, while not affecting his pace at full. He played just 12 league games in the 1991–92, scoring once, as Liverpool finished sixth in the league – their lowest finish in two decades and the first time since 1981 that they had failed to finish champions or runners-up. Barnes and several other senior players had frosty relationships with Souness during this period as the manager tried to impose new methods quickly, and many senior pros resented his hard discipline approach as well as the increased pressure in training. Barnes also once had to make a public apology to Souness after he gave an interview criticising the tactics employed by the manager before an important match.
Young team mate Robbie Fowler also said in his autobiography that Souness felt at the time Barnes was past his best, but in Fowler's (and others') opinion he still had a lot to offer and was still one of the most talented players at the club. Liverpool had qualified for the 1991-92 UEFA Cup, being readmitted to European competitions a year after the ban on all other English clubs in European competitions since the Heysel disaster in 1985 had been lifted. This was the first time Barnes had played in European competitions since Watford's 1983-84 UEFA Cup campaign.
Souness later stated in his autobiography that Barnes due to his injuries was now taking a "less demanding" central midfield playmaker's role as opposed to a winger with a goalscoring touch. Despite the effects of the injuries, Barnes was still regarded as one of club and country's best players and Souness noted that Barnes "Retained his quality on the ball, using it well and rarely losing possession". Mark Walters who had been highly effective for Souness at Glasgow Rangers had been purchased as cover/competition for Barnes but failed to displace him.
By the mid-1990s, Barnes knew he was reaching the veteran stage of his playing career and looked to make up for the underachievement at international level with his club side, who had begun to bear the fruits of Souness's youth policy. He publicly stated that he would stay at Liverpool and help bring through young talent that needed his leadership instead of leaving the club as it went through turbulent years under Graeme Souness, before Roy Evans took over at the helm in January 1994. His improved form in the 1994–95 season saw him earn a recall to the England team and he scored 7 league goals (9 in all competitions) despite being now principally a central midfielder.
Under Evans, Barnes and young players like Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler (who had been given their debuts by either Dalglish or Souness) began playing attractive, attacking football, and were starting to look like title contenders again after several years of dominance in the title race by Manchester United as well as the likes of Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. They won the League Cup in 1995, began challenging for the FA Premier League title, and lost the 1996 FA Cup Final to Manchester United. Barnes had now been converted into a holding midfielder where he, Redknapp and McManaman would pass their way through teams and set up goals. He often captained the side in 1995–96 when regular captain Ian Rush lost his place to new signing Stan Collymore, and when Rush departed to Leeds United at the end of the season he became full-time captain.