James Lawton: Haynes still the beginning, middle and end of how football should be played

'Haynes in the current Chelsea is a frightening idea. He would be sensational'
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The Independent Football

However, one aspect of his achievement has perhaps not been stressed enough, at least in the burningly intense appraisal of one of his greatest admirers. It is the timelessness of the meaning of Haynes, the epoch-spanning relevance of the game he created. He wasn't just another richly talented football player.

He had the wit to change the way the game was understood and played in this country.

England's World Cup-winning full-back and a long-time Fulham team-mate George Cohen has long been considered the ultimate fan of Haynes' ability to shape a game, and in the last few days the tone of his admiration has been the old amalgam of worship and affection. "They said Johnny was slow," Cohen was saying, "but over 10 yards he was greased lightning. He saw everything so quickly. He made his own time, his own space. It was the same with Bobby Charlton. Over the short and vital distances, he too was blinding."

However, if Cohen yields to no man in the extent of his belief that Haynes was one of the greatest footballers the game has ever known, he does have a rival in the reverence of his admiration.

It is John Giles, one of the most dominant midfielders in the wake of Haynes in the Sixties and early Seventies and of whom Sir Matt Busby once admitted, "Selling him to Leeds, not seeing his potential as a midfield player, was my greatest mistake in football."

It was an endorsement echoed by England's World Cup-winning manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, who having decided that the effects of a car crash had ruled Haynes out as a candidate for his own midfield, said, "As I look at all the talent and character at my disposal, my one regret is that John Giles wasn't born an Englishman."

This week the recipient of such daunting praise spelled out his debt to Johnny Haynes. It was first incurred at Maine Road in 1960, when Haynes was at his most majestic. Giles, who was playing, reluctantly, on the wing for Manchester United, went along to see Fulham play a powerful Manchester City team. City won, 1-0, but Giles was mesmerised by one man. "I couldn't look beyond Haynes," he recalled this week. "The more the City fans jeered him [in the North, Haynes was a pampered, 'southern softie' hate figure, a mantle inherited by Bobby Moore] the more I was entranced. The sheer intelligence of his football glowed through the night and on the bus home I replayed his every move."

At Old Trafford the following morning Giles, who was 19, discovered that Jimmy Murphy, Busby's No 2 and a man for whom the young Irishman had the deepest respect, had also been deeply impressed by the Haynes show.

Murphy was the ramrod and the philosopher-in-chief of the fabled Busby Babes who had perished at Munich two years earlier. Murphy hated mere adornment in football; everything that happened on the field had to have a hard purpose.

Beauty was a bonus. He would always believe that the fallen young giant Duncan Edwards had been potentially the greatest footballer he had ever seen, but on this winter morning, Giles overheard Murphy exhausting superlatives as he recounted the Haynes performance at Maine Road. "It was the greatest performance by a midfield player I have ever seen," said Murphy.

For Giles that was an instant article of faith. "It was the way I wanted to play, I had seen it done and it had received the stamp of approval by maybe the toughest, most practical football man I would ever know. Quite simply Haynes had revolutionised the way I thought about the game; he had given me a whole new set of possibilities about how you could play, and for me that picture of the game, that way of playing creatively, is as relevant today as it was that night 45 years ago.

"Today we talk about power and speed and we ask if the great players of yesterday could operate in these conditions. Well, let me tell you something; if Haynes stepped into a game today he would be seen as someone from another planet.

"He would be a man from Mars. Nutrition, training practices, physical development, all these things change. But some things don't, and they include speed of thought and technique. That so often today is the missing element, technique - sheer technique. Haynes had so much of it, allied with intelligence and vision, it was ridiculous."

Inevitably, Giles draws a parallel with the mastery of a Haynes and the current difficulties experienced by two of the most gifted players of their generation, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, to inflict themselves consistently on international football. First, though, he defines the extent of Haynes' originality.

"You have to remember," he says, "how strong the demarcation lines were in football at that time. As an old inside-left, who happened to be best on his right foot, Haynes would have been given a strict game plan. He would play in the 'inside-left' channel, breaking forward when the centre-forward headed a ball on, serving his winger, but never straying from a tightly defined area of operation.

"But Haynes tore that up. He could play the ball from any position, so why did he have to wait for a pass at a certain point in the field? He would go looking for the ball and when he had it he would orchestrate the game. He had that talent and vision and more than anything he had belief. Some saw this as arrogance, and maybe there was some of this, but then tell me a great player who didn't have a touch of this. Haynes saw that he can dominate a game, give it its shape.

"So let's discuss the Gerrard and Lampard situation. Why is it that they often are lost in an international game? It is because their greatest talent is to 'get on the end of things'. At Chelsea, particularly, there are things to get on the end of, and this is because of the cumulative effect of players like [Michael] Essien and [Claude] Makelele and [Damien] Duff. But for England this dimension is not present.

"Every move has to have a start, a middle and an end, and looking at Gerrard and Lampard for England you are constantly asking yourself, 'Where is the beginning?' Who is collecting the ball and making it work, picking up on the potential of a Lampard or a Gerrard to make the killing run? At Liverpool, Gerrard now has Alonso, an outstanding passer of the ball and a truly creative player. At Chelsea, Lampard benefits from an extremely solid defence and midfield.

"But then you have to consider the effect Haynes would have in the current Chelsea team. It is a frightening idea. He would simply be sensational."

It is a view Cohen supports with predictable vigour. On one of their last meetings, Haynes told Cohen he had enjoyed his autobiography, but added: "I think you should send me some royalties, George, most of the book is about me." Perhaps, inevitably so.

Cohen wrote: "I have a 100 individual memories of the beauty of John's play. One stands out for the sheer perfection of his skill. It was a charity match which, but for that one second, has faded completely from my memory. The ball came to him at speed on a wet, slippery surface but with the slightest of adjustments, one that was almost imperceptible, he played it inside a full-back and into the path of an on-running winger. I looked at our coach Dave Sexton on the bench and he caught my glance and shook his head as if to say 'fantastic'. Haynes could give you goose bumps on a wet night in a match that didn't matter."

Maybe, though, there is in this compliment the seed of Giles' only doubt about the sweep of Haynes' career. "I just wish," said Giles this week, "he had been stretched a little more. If he had gone to say Tottenham, as he might have done, we might have seen an even harder edge to his talent as he pushed for major honours. As it was, he was the King of Fulham, and sometimes I wanted him to push a little harder to leave that comfort zone."

Maybe it was true that Haynes played in too many matches that ultimately didn't matter. But if that was maybe a waste back in the Fifties and Sixties, it is one that can be felt with just as much force today.

Wherever and whenever, Johnny Haynes would always have shone a brilliant light on the game he enhanced and changed.

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