Following a week that has seen England exit the Nations League as well as the sad passing of former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, we caught up with BonusCodeBets ambassador, John Barnes. The former Liverpool midfielder shared his thoughts on his old team’s injury crisis, trying to find England’s best formation and why Raheem Sterling’s ability should not be questioned.
John Barnes Exclusive: Forget about the injuries, Liverpool must deal with what they’ve got now
“There are a lot of people saying that Liverpool must buy a new centre-back in January, but when you break it down, most players except for Virgil van Dijk will be back before then. There is no need for a knee jerk reaction, Liverpool have always planned ahead of time, but depending on the situation in January, the transfer window may become significant in terms of Liverpool needing more players due to the current situation. There is no need to harp on about it, we have to deal with it and not let the negativity creep into the dressing room because that is when it can affect our (Liverpool’s) results.
When Virgil van Dijk got injured, no one got carried away and we (Liverpool) were still winning games and at the right end of the table. Liverpool can’t worry about things they have no control over, so until the January transfer window, Liverpool must work with what they have and have full faith in Jurgen and the set-up, regardless of whatever graduates are coming through. No one was complaining when we (Liverpool) played Everton with nine graduates and were still competitive. We (Liverpool) still have a league to compete in and must be the primary focus.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Thiago is not guaranteed a place in the Liverpool, despite his reputation
“When you are playing regularly that is when you can cement your position within the team, but due to injuries, Thiago hasn’t been able to do that and played only a handful of games. He will be in contention to play, depending on the game. If Liverpool are facing opposition who defend in numbers and defend deep, then Thiago is the man who can create something from nothing. He (Thiago) is not necessarily one of the first names in the midfield three even before he was injured. It is the same with Diogo Jota, both players are giving Liverpool options and have the same quality as the other players but are not certainties to start each week. Jota (Diogo) has scored so many goals since he joined, and he doesn’t start all the time. It is not a question of playing well it is all about the balance of the team, who compliments who.”
John Barnes Exclusive: People saying Liverpool need to buy someone like van Dijk, but there isn’t anyone like him!
“There is no point going big on transfers in January, all the players that Liverpool ought to be targeting are still playing Champions League football for their clubs, so they won’t move. If they aren’t in the Champions League, then how good are they? It is never a time to spend a lot of money. However, if Liverpool are able to attract that sort of player, regardless of van Dijk’s injury then they absolutely should do everything to get him. There is no one else out there currently like him (Virgil van Dijk), it is all well and good saying ‘a player like’ but that replacement has to be identified and shown to have proven quality.”
John Barnes Exclusive: There is no threat to Raheem Sterling’s England spot, regardless of his drop in form
“Despite his drop in form this season, Raheem Sterling is still one of the main players for England and his place is not under threat. When you look at the front three for England, in my opinion it should always be Kane, Rashford and Sterling. With regards to Manchester City, a lot of his drop in form is down to the fact they’re missing a striker. It doesn’t matter how well they play and how creative you are, if you don’t have a Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus upfront, you will struggle to score goals. Raheem Sterling is not in the team to score goals every week, it is not what he is known for. He can’t be judged under these circumstances, positively or negatively, it is unusual times, and you look at how well the likes of Aston Villa and Southampton are doing, it’s too early to judge. Obviously if this continues throughout the season, then questions will need to be asked, but at this moment no one can question Sterling’s quality or his importance to England or Man City.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Ray Clemence was always willing to help young players
“In 1983, when I first joined the England set up, I was in quite a few of the squads with Ray Clemence during his later England career. Peter Shilton was the number one at the time, but Ray was always a gentleman and a great goalkeeper. He was always willing to help young players who were coming through. It is a sad time for Liverpool but more importantly his family who I know well. Ray was helpful and accommodating to everyone he met, always willing to listen and advise. He was a great footballer but also a great person.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Jordan Pickford would be my first choice England goalkeeper despite his mistakes
“Despite the mistakes he has made in the last few months, Jordan Pickford should continue being England’s number one goalkeeper. Nick Pope and Dean Henderson have not yet been in the firing line, to make mistakes or to be judged like Pickford. People will push for them to be starting for England, they are both very good goalkeepers who will be knocking on Gareth Southgate’s door. As soon as either one makes a mistake, they too will be criticised, that is part and parcel of being a goalkeeper. Jordan Pickford is still the number one for England even though he has made a few mistakes, he will come through that with support. He won’t let the negativity and questions surrounding his position get to him. The other keepers fighting for the England shirt are not necessarily better than him and for me he would always be my first choice.”
John Barnes Exclusive: England need to play more defensive players when they’re up against the better nations
“People talk about how the balance of the England team is wrong, but it will very each game as it’s dependent on who England are playing against. Looking at last week up against the Republic of Ireland, they (England) know they are going to be better and have most of the possession, they can go for more attacking midfield players who may not have the defensive qualities like some of the others but when they come up against the stronger teams like Belgium, more defensive midfielders are needed.
If the forwards are Sterling, Rashford, Grealish and Kane and they aren’t going to work defensively when they haven’t got the ball then England are going to lose matches. As attacking as that forward line is, the balance needs to be there. People feel the solution to the problem is to have all these attacking players, which is great when England are playing against teams who are weaker but when they play against the likes of France, Germany and Spain who are equally as good if not better, they need stronger defense minded players that is when the balance of the team becomes so important.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Gareth Southgate should look at Liverpool as a good example of how to strike a balance in the team with attacking players working hard to track back and defend
“Fans feel that the more players like Jack Grealish start for England the better chance we have of winning that is not the answer, the midfield is all dependent on who we are playing against and how hard they are going to work when they’re not in possession. Grealish played well against Belgium and got man of the match but England still went on to lose 2-0. We still don’t recognise the importance of solid defensive midfield players or defenders because we think players must be gifted on the ball. The two wide players and the forward just behind the striker, how hard are they going to work to track back and defend, Liverpool are a great example, they play a lot attacking midfield players because you know Mane, Firmino and Salah are going to be chasing and clearing the ball off the line but the same can’t be said for the England forwards.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs support from the club – his players must take more responsibility
“People in football talk about managers who have job-defining matches and dropping points at home to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday won’t be one of them for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The most important for him is that the fans are still supporting him, perhaps playing in an empty stadium has helped because there is no negativity from the crowd when they aren’t playing well. If he is supported and everyone believes in what he is doing at Manchester United, then it can only be a good thing. It won’t be easy for Ole as there is an agenda from people who do not want him to be the manager, as someone who doesn’t support United, long may that continue. I do feel sorry for him though because they (Manchester United) have great players and unfortunately when you have those great players and they win it is all about them but when the team lose the attention turns to the manager, so the players must take more responsibility.”
John Barnes Exclusive: Black/BAME equality must start with society, it is not the job of football to start that process
“There is an issue in high positions in England within every institution not just the FA. How many BAME people do we have in the high echelons in this country? Why are we talking as if football is unique in this? You can go into any industry and you won’t see black or BAME representation but unfortunately, we say it is just in football and absolved in society and free from responsibility to look at itself. I am not going to bash football, yes it has problem, but it has the same issue as society and until we look at it as a collective and making everyone accountable rather than pointing the finger at the ones who get caught, nothing will change.
Equal representation amongst the black community must start with society. Football is not where it starts because in the game you have good athletes who can play football. There must be a foundation laid down that sees black people as morally, mentally and intellectually equal. We need more education and more housing, then you look at the inner cities that is a lot more negatively impactful than the fact there are no black managers, and that black people are living in the conditions they are and no one else cares.”
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