An email conversation with John Barnes: 'If someone else knocks Brazil out then England have a chance'

How England will fare without Wayne Rooney; Maradona's mastery in the 1986 quarter-finals; When Gazza attacked a field of Albanian chickens; And why I would invite the Dalai Lama to dinner
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The Independent Online

Will England win the World Cup? And if not, who will? Brazil will win. They're the best team in the world and justified favourites. If they weren't in it, or got knocked out before England had to play them, England have a good chance, along with Holland, Argentina, Italy, Germany, the usual suspects.

How much will England miss Wayne Rooney for the games he isn't available? They shouldn't miss him at all, certainly early on, because they still have world-class players capable of winning matches. The likes of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Joe Cole are good enough. For the games when Rooney isn't available, I'd make no reference to him at all. People are being overly concerned about his absence. You need belief that you can win without him.

As a former England player and former club manager yourself, how would you cope, tactically, without him? Early on in the tournament I would start with 4-5-1, with Robinson in goal, Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Michael Carrick in a holding role, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard and Joe Cole, and Owen up front, and leave open the option for 4-4-2 with Crouch and Owen.

Theo Walcott - inspired gamble or demob-Sven gone bonkers? Neither. It's not really bonkers. Walcott hasn't done anything, and the hopes of a nation cannot rest on the shoulders of a 17-year-old who's not even played Premiership football. But if he comes on and does well, great. Just don't weigh him down with any expectations at all. But neither do I think it's that important as a gamble. I think Defoe should be there instead but he's not, so let's get on with it.

Who do you think will be the tournament's dark horses? Ivory Coast and the US, in the sense that I think they could perform above expectation in difficult groups. They both have players with top European teams and high-level European experience, which is so important.

What's your own best World Cup memory as a player? Just being there. If I have to pick one single moment, then it would be when I came on as a substitute in the 1986 quarter-final. We were 2-0 down to Argentina, but just to get on the pitch, to make my first-ever appearance at the World Cup, on the same stage as Maradona, that's about as good as it gets.

Did you realise, at the time Maradona scored his first goal, that he punched the ball? Straight away. We saw it from the bench, and knew instantly. But the referee made his call and that's that. Split-second decisions aren't always right, or easy. Steven Gerrard won a penalty against Hungary last week and there was no contact. That's not to say he didn't think he was going to be fouled. You understand as a player that often you react to something you think is going to happen. Sometimes it doesn't but you've reacted anyway. It's rare that a player takes a premeditated dive.

What was it like to face Maradona again when you played for England v The Rest of the World in the recent Unicef match? I wished he'd played in 1986 like he played the other week! But any time you share the pitch with him is special. He's the best player I've ever seen in a World Cup. The greatest player of all time, in fact.

Where do you rate his second goal in that 1986 game among the best at a World Cup? Top three, but probably not the best ever. I'd say his second goal against Belgium in the semi-final, when Argentina won 2-0 and Maradona dominated the match, was even better than the one he scored in the quarter-final against England for a start. I was watching some great World Cup goals the other night and there are other contenders, especially from 1978.

It wasn't a World Cup goal, but how do you rate your own memorable effort against Brazil for England in the Maracana in 1984? It doesn't compare. It was a friendly. The Brazilians had probably come straight off the beach to play us. There was none of the pressure of a competitive match. There was nothing serious at stake. I was lucky!

What was the daftest prank you ever saw Gazza play in your years with England? There are too many to mention, a lot involving air rifles. But I'd say the single silliest was watching him throwing hundreds of bars of carbolic soap from a 20th-floor hotel window in Albania into a field of chickens. Bobby Robson walked in while he was doing it and even he was laughing.

How did you prefer to kill time between matches? Once a tournament starts, it whizzes by, no problem. In the weeks before, I'd play pool, or cards, or chat. There were no Play Stations then, or DVDs or even a games room. We got very bored.

What do you think of Embrace's World Cup song? And will we still be hearing it, like "World in Motion", more than a decade later? It's an OK pop song, by a pop group. If the team does well, I'd guess we'll be hearing it for a long time. I would have preferred something quicker, more upbeat, something faster that the fans would've been excited to sing.

What's your preferred World Cup musical genre: opera or rap? Gangsta rap.

Are you going to be in Germany for the World Cup? And if so, when you're not watching matches will you be more culture vulture, beach bum or adrenaline junkie? I'll be watching from home because we've got a baby arriving imminently, number six. I'm definitely not an adrenaline junkie. More of a beach bum but increasingly a culture vulture. On recent visits to Iraq and Afghanistan [on morale-boosting trips for British forces] I've seen some interesting places, like the Blue Mosque in Afghanistan.

If you could host a dinner party and invite four guests, footballing or otherwise, from any time in history, who would you pick and why? Jesus Christ, Mohamed, the Dalai Lama and Lao Tsu, for their insight into life.

What's on your iPod? I haven't got one. I'm not very technical. It's a struggle to send an e-mail.

John Barnes is the presenter of 'John Barnes' Football Night on Five' on Friday nights throughout the football season.

Attachment: The John Barnes Low-down

* 1963 Born 7 November, in Kingston, Jamaica.

* 1982 Watford finish runners-up in the old Second Division, winning promotion.

* 1983 28 May: makes England debut in the 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland, in Belfast. Goes on to win 78 caps, scoring 12 goals.

* 1983 Watford finish runners-up behind Liverpool in the old First Division.

* 1984 Watford lose 1-0 in the FA Cup final to Everton.

* 1987 19 June: transferred to Liverpool for a fee of £900,000. Makes debut on 5 August, in the 2-1 defeat of Arsenal at Highbury.

* HONOURS WITH LIVERPOOL

1987-88 League Championship, beaten FA Cup finalists.

1988-89 FA Cup, Charity Shield, First Division runners-up.

1989-90 League Championship.

1990-91 Charity Shield (shared), First Division runners-up.

1991-92 FA Cup.

1994-95 League Cup.

1995-96 Beaten FA Cup finalists.

* 1997 is transferred to Newcastle United, before finishing his playing career with a brief spell at Charlton.

* 1999 July: appointed head coach at Celtic. Sacked in February 2000, with a record of 13 wins, two draws and five defeats in the SPL, and two days after the 3-1 Scottish Cup defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

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