Barnes fears for England in trying to catch Spain best
That goal in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana nearly three decades ago provided a tantalising hint of what English football could produce, but John Barnes has provided a sobering assessment of the national team's long road to aspirations of silverware. Things may get worse before they get better, he says, because the power of the Premier League will continue to prevent young players gaining the top-flight experience integral to the flourishing of Spain and Germany.
Barnes had played 30 times for Watford when he accelerated through the entire Brazil side in June 1984, and he joins The Independent columnist Rafael Benitez, the Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, Gérard Houllier, Patrick Vieira and the England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce in his forceful argument that the dearth of Premier League experience is England's single biggest problem.
"The German football association came to an agreement with the clubs that to help the national team they had to promote young German players in the clubs," Barnes said. "German clubs suffered for five years but look at how good they are now. Unfortunately that won't happen in England because of the Premier League, the owners and how much more important it is in England to play for your club rather than your country. In Spain there is an identity and responsibility to have, like, Barcelona playing Catalan players.
"Even in Italy it was no secret that the national team improved when the whole exodus of their players stopped and they were forced to have Italian players playing for their big teams like Juventus, and look how good their team is. Unless our best young players are playing regularly for their clubs the national team will suffer."
Benitez has argued that Premier League clubs must be allowed to put reserve sides through the football pyramid – which won't happen – and that a competitive under-21 reserve league is needed. The Premier League is launching one next month. But Barnes dismissed the idea of that making a difference.
"No," he said. "You need players playing at the highest level of the Champions' League. Unfortunately it will get worse before it starts to get better for the national team in England. It's the clubs who will be fine."
Barnes said, at the launch of the National Football Museum in Manchester, that the humility England demonstrated at the European Championship is a significant step. "We had a bit of a knock, I must admit, when Fifa made us number four in the world this week (Brazil are 11th). I think that's a bit of a setback.Because maybe we are going to think 'Oh we're number four! Let's get back to thinking we are the best in the world and we should be winning the World Cup. We don't have to move forward, or develop'."
England do need to develop, with a wholesale change in their philosophy, Barnes said – a point Benitez has pressed hard in recent weeks. "I don't think we should necessarily concentrate on the desire and the determination and the good old British up-and-at-'em spirit which over the years I think we've played too much on," said Barnes.
"With the laws these days you can't be too over-aggressive so we then have to improve on the other side of things. I don't think we need to improve our individual technique. We need to improve our collective philosophy; our general team philosophy in how we want to play, how we want to move the ball, do we want to keep the ball for maybe 30 passes without necessarily going forward? That's not traditionally our thing. Our thing is 'let's get the ball moving forward as quickly as possible'. We are not going to play like Spain but we can get a happy medium, a happy blend."
Barnes does not see the Olympics as significant. "It's a great showcase, but for me football is about playing at the highest level like the World Cup, the Champions' League. Yes, it's great to say you are playing in the Olympics but that isn't going to improve anything. For athletics, swimming, cycling yes – it's the pinnacle. For football and tennis, it's a sideshow."
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