John Barnes: One of the greatest Liverpool players ever to grace the Anfield turf

As he celebrates his 56th birthday, Daniel Moxon takes a look back at the club legend’s illustrious career on Merseyside.

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Ask anyone who the best Liverpool player of all time was, and the answer might well be Kenny Dalglish or Ian Rush, Alan Hansen or Steven Gerrard.

One person who can definitely be counted among such illustrious names is John Charles Bryan Barnes MBE.

In 10 years on Merseyside, he pulled on the famous Red shirt 407 times and scored 108 goals. Today, he celebrates his 56th birthday.

When he arrived in England from his homeland Jamaica as a 12-year-old, he had never even seen snow before. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before he was showing his abundant skill in the youth football scene in London — where he was spotted by Watford manager Graham Taylor.


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He was snapped up without hesitation and played a key role for the Hornets over the next six years, acting as a real driving force in their first season in the top flight. They finished second in the league, and Barnes was emerging as a real star of the game.

Kenny Dalglish took notice, and Liverpool parted with £900,000 to bring him to Anfield in June 1987. He set up a goal for John Aldridge within 10 minutes of his debut against Arsenal, and never looked back.

His tremendous skill on the ball and lightning pace meant that he was a real nightmare for any defender. He had the speed and trickery to be a nuisance on the left wing, but his raw power on top made him an irresistible force.

More than that, he became something of a cultural icon. He was one of the first high-profile black players to play for the club. Racial inequality was still rife at this time, so a black man emerging as a star player for one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs was a beacon of hope and pride to youngsters everywhere.

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His impact on the international stage will have only spread that message further. He earned 79 England caps throughout his career, and had already scored his most famous goal before he moved to Liverpool.

When you consider some of the teams and players to have played at the famous stadium in Rio de Janeiro, to have your strike dubbed “the greatest goal ever seen at the Maracanã” must be a pretty special feeling.

But that’s what happened. It was a statement made by a local newspaper in the city after England played Brazil at the hallowed arena. The way he effortlessly dribbled through one of the most iconic teams of all time and found the back of the next goes down in footballing folklore.

He continued to play with style and flair for many years, given a free role where he could drift from the left wing at times to create opportunities more centrally. Along with Aldridge and Peter Beardsley, he was an integral part of one of the most exciting forward lines around.

But, as with every great story, along came a storm.

A ruptured Achilles tendon in 1992 meant a lengthy injury layoff and, when he returned to action around his 29th birthday, he no could no longer hit the speeds or run with the same intensity that he used to be able to produce. He had lost his greatest weapon.

A lesser man might have given up, but Barnes instead worked on the other areas of his game and reinvented himself as a footballer. He no longer had the pace required to make a great impact on the wing, but in a central role he had the knowledge and experience to make the Reds tick in midfield — a quality that new manager Roy Evans was only too happy to utilise.

It was, perhaps, a less glamorous role than the one he had fulfilled so admirably before, but he had graduated from labourer to architect. He was Evans’ coach on the pitch.

Steve McManaman was now the man on the flank, and Barnes was able to pass on his experience and know-how to the young Scouser. ‘Macca’ was now his protégé, his body capable of carrying out what Barnes wanted to do, but no longer could.

While his influence on the pitch was waning with age, this was his last gift to the club that adored him. He left the club as captain in 1997 with a bulletproof reputation as one of the best to ever grace the pitch at Anfield.

“Players like John Barnes come along just once in a lifetime,” said Sir Tom Finney.

He wasn’t wrong.

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