Interview with John Barnes

John Barnes is an English Jamaican-born former footballer and manager. During his playing career, Barnes played for teams including Liverpool, Watford, and Newcastle United, and managed the Tranmere Rovers. He now appears on TV across the world presenting, guest appearing, and even rapping. We managed to catch him while he in Dubai for ‘Sport is Great’, a two-month long initiative at Harvey Nichols Dubai.


What is it like being a professional footballer?
Well, being a footballer has changed. From the 80’s up to around 1993 it was a very normal existence. You were a normal person when you walked around. When the popularity of the Premier League increased, football changed. I haven’t been a modern footballer since 1999, so being a footballer now is very different to how it was when I played as now it is much more high profile, there is so much more media involved and I guess players are not seen as regular people anymore but celebrities.


From a money perspective, it has only really changed for players at the highest level. It hasn’t changed all that much further down the leagues. I managed Tranmere Rovers around 5 years ago and our average wage was about £800 a week, we had some on £300, and our highest was on £2000. So when you hear about Wayne Rooney and people like that earning £300,000 – it’s just the very few on the highest level who earn that much, and I think football has changed for them due to the media attention and their attitude.


Do you have any tips or suggestions for anyone wanting to become a professional football player?
Enjoy football and be prepared to play for any team. I go to schools and talk to young kids and I always ask, “Who wants to be a footballer?” and all the hands go up, but then when I say, “Who wants to play for Stockport County and earn £300 pounds a week?” and all their hands go down. What they want is to play for teams like Manchester United, Liverpool and Barcelona and to be celebrity footballers. If you want to be a footballer you need to be prepared to play for your local team, and that is the essence of football. That is the real desire and hunger that you need to be a footballer.

A lot of kids want to be footballers but they want to play for these big teams or they don’t want to play at all, and that’s not the right attitude to have. Enjoy the game of football and if you want to be a footballer, prove it. You have to have that love and desire to play football to have the right attitude and mentality to be a footballer.


What was and would be your favourite club to play for?
Liverpool, obviously, has been my favourite club to play for, and Barcelona would be my favourite team to play for – I love what they stand for. As a club, Barcelona have the right tradition, culture and ethics and relationship with the local community. That’s how football was when it first started years ago, and I love how it’s still a huge part of Barcelona’s club. I feel that’s now no longer there in other clubs at the highest level, as for them it’s all about money. A lot of clubs have lost their identity with the public and their fans because they’ve become a big business. Barcelona is an example that you can have both.


Did you prefer playing in a club or managing a club?
Playing in a club by far was more enjoyable. Any manager will tell you that the only reason you manage is because you can’t play or you got too old.


If you could re-live any game, which would it be and why?
Playing against Diego Maradona in 1986 is probably one because he is the greatest player in the world, in my opinion, but my favourite game of all time was Liverpool against Nottingham Forest in 1989. Nottingham Forest was the second best team in the country at the time and we were able to beat them 5-0; it was a prefect team performance. I played decently – I’ll admit I’ve played better games, but it was just the perfect game from any team I’ve seen or played in, for the entire 90 minutes there was complete dominance and excellence. No one was showing off and everyone was making the right decisions. I would love to relive that game over and over again.


Did you ever want to be anything else besides a footballer?
Yeah, I’d become a rapper since I’m a very good rapper. Football followed by rapping.

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