John Barnes is without doubt one of the greatest wingers to have played for Liverpool. During his peak, there was no greater sight than watching Barnes bamboozle full backs, delivering precision crosses whilst also scoring dazzling goals. The number 10 shirt was created for Barnes – Anfield’s ultimate showman.
Born in Jamaica, the young Barnes became a household name in 1984 whilst playing for England in a Maracana friendly against Brazil. With his dodgy perm, Barnes caressed the ball on his chest and darted forward from the left flank, beating six Brazilians, wrong footing Junior before slotting the ball past the hapless Roberto Costa.
The goal was ‘made in Brazil’ and Barnes described subsequent viewing of footage of the goal as ‘having an out of body experience’.
It was in 1987 that Kenny Dalglish bought Barnes from Watford as part of a radical overhaul at Anfield. He joined Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, and assisted by Ray Houghton, became the most lethal strike force in the country. Barnes endeared himself to his new family after scoring on his debut – a glittering free kick against Oxford United. This was preceded a few weeks later by a stunning solo goal against QPR.
Barnes was a revelation at Anfield where he tore up coaching manuals. As a flying winger he possessed everything; great feet, close control, searing pace, the brute strength of a raging bull, and the elegant agile movement of a ballerina. Barnes was also a highly competent dead ball expert. Weighing up his position it was usual to see a flawless curler rise over and soar into the corner of the net.
A traditional winger, Barnes liked to hug the touchline, beating his man before launching accurate crosses for the strikers. In his latter years he also displayed the acumen to drift infield and spray the ball like an accomplished midfielder.
Barnes running at terrified defences has become one of the most iconic memories in football. His presence on Liverpool’s left made Paddock and Kemlyn road seats some of the most valuable in the country.
Barnes most fruitful season was in 1990, where he scored an astonishing 22 goals as Liverpool powered to the title. With the emergence of Steve McManaman, Barnes remodelled himself as a highly reputable holding midfielder. In 2007 he was voted in a poll as one of 100 great black Britons.
Barnes, who starred in both the 'Anfield Rap' and New Order's 'World in Motion,' is English football's most capped black international. He was voted footballer of the year in 1988 and 1990.
een by some as an enigma on the international front, it was successive England managers who failed to bring the best out of arguably their most gifted player. Barnes represented the Three Lions 79 times, scoring 12 goals, playing at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, as well as Euro 88.
After ten years at Liverpool, Barnes joined Kenny Dalglish at Newcastle, picking up a losers medal in the 1998 F.A Cup final against Arsenal. After retiring at Charlton Athletic aged 35, Barnes again linked up with King Kenny to become head coach at Glasgow Celtic. The reign was short lived, and he was sacked after a disastrous defeat to Inverness Caledonian thistle.
For many years still, he will remain the inspiration of many future wingers. But it was at Liverpool where ‘Digger’ carved a niche into the hearts of the faithful.
It is unfortunate that he was not able to pit himself on the European stage against the continents greatest talents. Barnes’ impact on the beautiful game stretched to a lot more than goals, cups and caps.
Together with Cunningham, Anderson and Regis, he will always be recognised and remembered as a pioneer as well as being one of the greatest players to have played for Liverpool and England.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.