Football: Barnes displays the extent of his repertoire in difficult role

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The Independent Online
ASSUMING that there is no creative force coming through the ranks, and that Paul Gascoigne will find it exceedingly difficult to renew his international presence, Terry Venables' decision to recall John Barnes against the United States at Wembley last night was not remotely questionable.

But for the facial injury that has put him out of Premiership action for six weeks, Peter Beardsley of Newcastle would probably have been in charge of navigation, but Barnes certainly did enough for Venables to persist with him.

When the England coach points out that modern defensive techniques make the role of the winger one of the most difficult in international football, it casts new light on the enigmatic nature of Barnes's career in an England shirt.

The goal Barnes scored against Brazil back in 1984 was indeed memorable, but it has been burdensome too.

All too little attention has been paid since then to the irrefutable fact that Brazil have seldom looked as inept as they did that day at Maracana in Rio.

Last night, Barnes filled the role in which he has made a bright start for the re-emerging Liverpool this season in the Premiership, a position more or less that which used to be known as an inside-left.

A positional sense has never been one of his strongest points, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses as an international under Venables' tuition. The signs last night were certainly more than a little promising.

Clearly eager to keep the ball moving and not get bogged down in pointless possession, it was a while before he began to assert himself fully and reach out to show the full extent of his repertoire.

One early volleyed cross that unfortunately did not reach Darren Anderton cleanly, was a gem and, if most of his passing in the first half was of the bread and butter kind, one or two balls were threaded through beautifully.

Whether it was the result of encouragement from Venables during the interval or simply burgeoning confidence, Barnes eventually showed that at the age of 30, he has not lost the ability to surge past opponents into shooting positions.

All in all, Venables can be rather pleased with the night's work against an extremely fit, fully committed and well coached US team, who were never overawed by their first appearance at Wembley.

There was plenty of width and movement in England's play, and to see them attempting short passing movements on the edge of the US penalty area was almost a revelation.

Shearer and Sheringham ran so purposefully when the ball was out wide that England's leading goalscorer, David Platt, often found it difficult to find space in the penalty area.

Romania next month will provide a sterner test, but it seems that England are now on the right course. There is hope for John Barnes yet.