It may be 14 years since he left Liverpool, but the Anfield values remain. John Barnes, winner of two League titles and two FA Cups there, says: "Football is all about togetherness, spirit and players being on the same level." That is why he believes Manchester United can still finish above Manchester City this season and that two of his former clubs, Liverpool and Newcastle, will continue to prosper.
Barnes, 47, was last week unveiled as a football analyst for ESPN and will begin his duties at United's game away to Swansea in three weeks' time, expecting to find them fully recovered from the scarcely believable events at Old Trafford last Sunday. "Manchester City are playing really well but I've always believed the test of a good side and the mentality and the character of champions is when things are not going so well," he says. "I have no worries that United won't come back from that 6-1 defeat, because they have the character, as we've seen for the last 10 years. I remember United coming back from 2-0 down in key matches. Can City do that? They're playing well, winning in style, but Chelsea this time last year were doing the same thing."
City's flaw, he believes, is the very quality that others ascribe as a strength, namely the number of superstars – or super-egos – in the squad. "You can have too many star players. When a superstar coming off is being replaced by another superstar, then he sees him as a threat, someone who can take his position. When City players have come off I can see a lot of them haven't been happy because they feel under threat."
Perhaps the night in Munich when City were outplayed by Bayern and Carlos Tevez's fragile relationship with the manager Roberto Mancini finally collapsed offered a clue. Barnes says there will be other such critical occasions as the season progresses. "I can't think of a team that's gone through a full season without having any problems at all. Arsenal went unbeaten but even they had difficult games, where they had to come from behind to get a draw.
"There are always sticky patches. It doesn't necessarily mean defeats. It means games where things aren't going well, some star players have to come off, everyone's still pulling in the same direction, no one's arguing. So I reserve judgement on Manchester City until I see how they respond to adversity."
His other argument is that United and Liverpool are buying for the longer term and will find more stability than City. "I believe what's going to happen now is that players won't stay at clubs for so long, especially the foreign players. What Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish are doing is signing players they think will stay for years. Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, they're not going to be looking to move anywhere else. Look at City now with Tevez, and what you get with foreign players who really have no allegiance to the club."
Barnes acknowledges that Newcastle, where he played for two years, have yet to meet the very best teams, but says they are an illustration of pulling together. "You've had Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, Luis Enrique and Andy Carroll all gone and Newcastle have been better," he says. "Now they're all working as a team."
So, come next May? "I think Liverpool will be back in the top four. You can see that Arsenal are a bit inconsistent and Tottenham are similar. Manchester United will be first or second. Liverpool could pip Chelsea or even Manchester City."
John Barnes is joining ESPN as an analyst for their coverage of the Premier League and the FA Cup. Visit www.espn.co.uk/tvReuse content