Original article published 11 November 2022
Ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the team at bet365 sat down with Liverpool and England icon John Barnes to discuss the recent Liverpool sale rumours, Jurgen Klopp’s future and how England will perform throughout the World Cup.
What do you make of the Liverpool sale news? Have FSG been good owners in your view?
There is a lot of speculation as to what's what. Whether it's for sale, whether they're looking for investment or partners, so it would be silly for me to comment on speculation. But of course, they have been fantastic owners.
If you look at what they actually did when they came in, what Liverpool have achieved - as much as Jurgen Klopp is the one who's actually done it - they've supported him every inch of the way. And his philosophy in terms of the template of what he wanted the football club to be and the players he likes, they have supported him every step of the way.
As to whether they've been good owners of the club, they've been absolutely fantastic. Because they've supported Jurgen in everything he's wanted to do, strategically on the playing side, on the new training ground side where Jurgen has had a big impact, whatever he's wanted they've given him.
What do you make of Liverpool’s season so far?
Well, it's a bit inconsistent, but for me it's understandable. If you look at what Liverpool have achieved in the last four years, notwithstanding this year, they've had players aged between 29 and 32, with good experience and who have been playing for a long time.
Obviously that theme is always going to be brought up in terms of the age of the players with Sadio Mane leaving, and if you look at the players who have now come in, they've got great potential. Harvey Elliott, 19, Fabio Carvalho, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, they are all under 23.
So, we're going through a few teething problems in coming up with a new way of playing with new, young players, and with youth comes inconsistency.
You’ve seen us beat Man City, you’ve seen us beat Tottenham away, but then we lose to Nottingham Forest and Leeds. So, we are a bit inconsistent, but in terms of the future, and I use Arsenal as an example, Arsenal are going through something similar with the young players that they had last year. As much as they've been going through that for a longer period of time, they've got a year's more experience now, and more experience of playing together, and you can see how well they're doing.
I don't think we're necessarily going to win the league this year. I still think we'll be in the top four, but I think that moving forward the future looks very bright for Liverpool.
As it did for Arsenal, even when they didn't qualify for the Champions League last year, because of the young players they have moving forward, and they're going to add to it. There are inconsistencies but I'm hopeful that they can still finish in the top four. And in the years to come I'm sure we'll see the benefits of it.
Do you believe the likes of Darwin Nunez, Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliott have what it takes to be the future of Liverpool?
Well, they're playing now, so as much as we talk about Luis Diaz, he's not that old either. So even though people talk about them being the future of Liverpool because of the injury situation we've had, we've had to put them in now. And I think that that can only stand them in good stead to give them more experience, as long as the fans and everybody supports them without giving them too much stick because they are a little bit inconsistent. Which Liverpool fans will, because Liverpool fans love them.
So yes, they are the future of the club, allied with some of the older players we have. We can also add Ibrahima Konate to that, who is still young, Trent Alexander-Arnold is still young. But I think there was always going to be a bit of a dip because unless we kept that team together that were so strong for the last four years, and because of the age of the players, it was always going to happen.
Do you think Jurgen Klopp will remain at Anfield beyond next summer?
Yes, I think so. I don't think he wants to go anywhere else. And of course, now that it is a new, young team I think he'd like to develop this team. Obviously, the team must stay the same. Then maybe you'd say 'Well, does he want a new challenge?'
But the challenge for him now is to develop this team in the way that he developed the last team. And in fact, developing the last team was a little bit different because there were a lot of changes and a lot of players, whereas now these are his players coming in. He had to work with a lot of players that were already there, so I definitely think he'll be here beyond next summer.
How do you think Liverpool will get on against Real Madrid?
Well, I would fancy Liverpool more in a two-legged game than in a one-off game against Real Madrid. When they've lost to them it's been in the finals. Whereas if you look at how we did against them in the group stages, or in the two-legged matches, we’ve done well.
I think that in the two-legged game, I'm not going to make them favourites but I'm much more confident with Liverpool against Real Madrid over two legs because if you look at both one-off games, particularly last year, Courtois was the best player and he kept them in the game. In a one-off that can happen, whereas over two legs the more consistent team will prevail. And I think over two legs, Liverpool will be able to beat Real Madrid.
Of course, Real Madrid are a fantastic team, don't get me wrong, so I'm not saying Liverpool are favourites, but had it been a one-off cup final rather than a two-legged tie, I'd have been a little bit more wary.
A lot of criticism has been levelled at Mohamed Salah this season, despite scoring regularly. What do you make of the criticism he’s received?
Well, it's not fair that he's getting criticism. He's still our top scorer, he's still playing well. Any footballer is a reflection of how the team plays. If Erling Haaland went to Man City and they're inconsistent and not playing well every week, he wouldn't be scoring the goals he scores.
So, it's very much like Nunez coming in, like Diaz, you're a reflection of the team. Salah has picked up in the last two or three matches, but criticism is going to come because of his contract and that kind of situation.
I think it's unfortunate that Liverpool are going through a little bit of transition, he signed this new contract and people expected him to hit the ground running and do exactly what he was doing, but I think that you could say the same thing to Virgil van Dijk or any of them. They're still the same players and they're still giving a hundred percent.
But all you can ask of the players is that they give one hundred percent, every single day. Not just in training, but in the matches too with commitment and effort, and that's what they do. So no, if anybody criticises Mo Salah, they are wrong.
What is your Top Four prediction for the Premier League?
I think the top four will be Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea or Tottenham. I would have given it to Tottenham, but they are going through a few problems themselves, and Chelsea seem to have a few teething problems, but I think it will be four of those five.
Manchester City and Newcastle United have financial backing from owners in the Middle East. How would you feel about Liverpool adopting a similar approach?
First of all, Newcastle aren't reaping the benefits of it because they haven't spent hundreds of millions of pounds. I'm looking at Newcastle's team and it doesn't seem to me that they have players who have cost a lot of money, and they aren’t on bigger salaries than any of the top clubs.
Newcastle haven't reaped the benefits of it at all. In the future they may, in terms of the money they spend, but of course Man City have, as have Barcelona and Bayern Munich. I don't necessarily feel that is the way to get success.
The way to get success is to have good players and a good manager who knows how to spend money wisely, without necessarily saying that you have to spend a hundred million pounds on players and pay them three or four hundred thousand pounds a week. Jurgen Klopp has had success without doing that.
So, if you're asking me whether somebody who has billions of pounds from India or from Saudi Arabia takes over Liverpool, but they don't spend their money wisely, that's not going to bring success. So yes, of course money does help, and having an owner who has money helps, but of course in the future we really don't know what's going to happen in terms of regulations and financial fair play rules.
FSG have been criticised by some for not investing enough. What are your thoughts on that?
When you lose matches, people are going to criticise you. Since FSG have been here we've won the league, we've won the Champions League, so therefore they've been very supportive.
In terms of the players, we have those who have got to a certain age, we’ve had to change that, things may not be going well, but that is not FSG's fault. The solution - and I don't think Jurgen Klopp has been battering the door down to give him hundreds of millions of pounds to spend - they bought Darwin Nunez, they've signed young players in Fabio Carvalho and Luis Diaz because they know they are for the future, so therefore it's a bit of a transitional period and fans have to understand that.
Because once again, football fans just assume that you have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds. So, the ones who have criticised them for me don't understand football, and they don't understand what Liverpool are trying to do, and the way a football club should be run.
If new owners do come in, how important is it that they understand Liverpool as a football club?
Of course, it's important that they understand the culture of the club, absolutely. But more importantly they need to understand the manager's requirements. Because as I said, I don't think that money coming in will mean that all of a sudden we’re going to want to sign a top-class player for £150 million and pay them half a million pounds a week.
That would destabilise the squad, and I know he likes to have a squad where the harmony is right, without having only superstars in the team. For me, the most important thing regardless of whether it's FSG or new owners is that they understand Jurgen's requirements. And I don't necessarily feel, as he's said in the past, that Jurgen's requirements are having a whole load of superstar players in the team who get paid much more, and who you respect much more than the other squad members.
Which areas of the team would you like to see strengthened?
I would like to see everybody fit. That's the main thing. I think that from a midfield perspective we need to strengthen. From a defensive midfield perspective, you have Fabinho, of course James Milner is there, Jordan Henderson is a bit older, and he has his injury problems, but with Fabio Carvalho, Harvey Elliott and Thiago we've got lots of bold players now. The centre-back situation is fine, we've got Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate, so as much as things might not be going well you've got four top centre-backs there.
To say we need another centre-back is crazy. The full-back situation seems to be well covered, so I don't think we need much. We need everybody fit, and we need to get used to this new way of playing, in terms of having our three hardworking defensive midfield players. Now we have a classic centre forward in Nunez, where we had Roberto Firmino before, so I don't necessarily think we need a lot playing-wise. It's just getting used to a new system.
It's not been the best of starts this season, what is a good season now?
Qualifying for the Champions League, and I still think we'll be in the top four. Obviously you can never talk about cup runs because you don't know who you're going to play. For example, before yesterday we said let's have a good Champions League run, we can still go and win it, but we are playing Real Madrid, so of course they can beat us. In the FA Cup we could get Man City away in the third round, or Arsenal. When you talk about cup runs without knowing who you're going to play it's difficult to say, 'we're going to have a good cup run.'
Whereas in the league you know who you're going to play every week. So, from the league perspective, and that's always been Liverpool's bread and butter from Bill Shankly's time, anything else is a bonus. So, for me success would be finishing in the top four, which doesn't mean first or second necessarily. Obviously qualifying for the Champions League for me would represent success, and I think we will.
Jude Bellingham is a name who comes up all the time. High price of course, is he worth such a potentially risky investment?
I don't think he's a risky investment at all. Look at his age, his quality, he's a young English player, he's done fantastic, so I don't think it's risky. He's a midfield player, an area we probably feel we have to strengthen, particularly looking at Jordan Henderson and James Milner and the age of them, so I think it will be a great investment. I don't think it will be a risk at all.
I know you’re a fan of Roberto Firmino, he’s been left out of the Brazil squad, do you think that’s a mistake from them leaving him out?
I don't know much about the Brazil squad, and I think that the emergence of Gabriel Jesus has probably meant that he could be left out, but I'd have him in the squad all day long. I think it will be a bit of a mistake if Liverpool don't involve him, not necessarily in the first team but somewhere, because I know that Jurgen likes him and he's my favourite Liverpool player in terms of what he gives the team, a lot of unseen work.
Not just off the ball but on the ball, linking things in, so from a Brazil perspective, in many respects I may be quite happy about that, which means that he'll have a bit of a rest and he'll be able to work for Liverpool and keep fresh and keep fit.
Your goal against Brazil was a cracker. What’s the favourite ever goal you’ve scored?
My favourite was against Queens Park Rangers. That's my favourite goal. I've scored many but the Queens Park Rangers goal was particularly good. I think Ian Rush had just gone to Juventus the season before, and that was the first time he came back to watch a game. And as we were walking out there was this huge roar and we thought it was for us, but it was for Ian Rush, so that goal was special.
The Brazil goal, it was a friendly game at the end of the season, I don't think the Brazilians were trying too hard. I think someone should have tackled me, but of course scoring in the Maracanã Stadium is special.
Darwin Nunez has had to knuckle down in the Premier League – he looked dangerous the other day, can he come good for Liverpool?
I think he will. As I said, if Erling Haaland went to Man City and they were struggling and being inconsistent, I think you would see Haaland being inconsistent. Obviously, he's gone there when they're playing well every week, creating chances and scoring goals.
Nunez is a fantastic player, but he's come to Liverpool when the team are finding their feet with a new way of playing, so therefore you can see him being inconsistent. But if you look at his attitude, commitment and determination, and his obvious quality, his pace, he's strong, and he's got a great attitude, I have no fears that he's going to come through.
If John Barnes was playing today, what position would he play in this Liverpool team?
Well, it depends if it's John Barnes before 28 years old, pre-ruptured Achilles tendon, he would be one of the front three, if not it would have to be one of the midfield three.
But I think that if you look at the way Liverpool play now, I would probably be playing on the right, if Mo wasn't there, because of course when I played, as well as scoring goals, my job was to create for Ian Rush, John Aldridge or Robbie Fowler. Because that's what wingers do. Whereas now Liverpool play with inverted wingers if you like, left-footed players playing on the right, right-footed on the left, it means you're coming in to score goals yourself, so of course that would be fantastic with my left foot coming in from there to score goals.
Although in saying that, with Darwin Nunez, who probably likes you to go down the line and play crosses in, maybe on the left would be where I'd play.
The World Cup is finally here. Any talk of it evokes memories of Argentina, what was it like to play against them?
It was special to be on the pitch with Diego Maradona. He's one of my favourite players of all time. And he's fantastic, he's iconic. So even though I came on for the last 15 minutes, just to be on the pitch with him was special. But of course, as a young boy growing up in Jamaica it's no different for me than any young boy growing up in England, or Sierra Leone, or Paraguay. We love the World Cup. And you want to play in a World Cup.
Fortunately, I was able to do that, but it wouldn't be any different for me than for Diego Maradona as a young boy growing up and thinking he could play in the World Cup or watch them playing in the World Cup, because it's such an iconic and special moment. And it rarely supersedes anything, even in terms of where it's going to be. The fact that it's in Qatar means as much as if it was in England in '66, or in Argentina in '78, or Spain in '82.
I remember when it went to one of the so-called unfancied venues, for example South Africa, when they thought 'how is it going to be in South Africa, it should be in a European or a South American country', and it was a fantastic World Cup. As it was in South Korea and Japan. So, I have no fears about it being a fantastic tournament, because regardless of anything else it is the World Cup.
Is Gareth Southgate the right man for England?
He's as right as the right man can be. Because obviously when you're talking about Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, maybe give them time, but in terms of what's available and what we have now, Gareth Southgate absolutely is. He's a modern manager who understands international football, whereby these aren't your players. They are from other clubs, and when you get together you have three or four days to get them to want to play for you.
And they like Gareth, he's not a shouter or a screamer, he doesn't tell people off, which is the way modern managers are. But if push comes to shove and things aren't going well maybe you need a manager who's going to shout and scream and change things and Gareth doesn't do that, but I think he's ideally suited to international football.
Obviously, the problem is that we're going into this tournament without a lot of confidence. Whereas if you look at what's happened in the last two tournaments, we've gone in there with confidence. The draw has been kind to us, and that has happened again, so I fully expect England to go through to the quarter finals, semi-finals. And of course, like in cup football, depending on the draw, you could actually go through to the final and even win.
And if you look at what we did in the Euros and the World Cup, we were very fortunate in terms of the side of the draw that we were on, so we didn't play the Belgians and the French. Germany was our hardest game, and in the previous World Cup it was very similar. So, if the draw is kind, I think we can do very well. Even if the draw is not kind on a one-off, we can do well because we have individual players like Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Harry Kane, who even if they're not playing well can still win matches.
But I think it's important for Kane particularly and Sterling from an attacking perspective to hit form. Because defensively we haven't been doing that. It seems to me that Sterling will always do very well for England, better than he does for his club, regardless of whether he's playing or not, so I think he will be vital, and of course Harry Kane as well.
In our survey results for bet365, 9 in 10 USA fans think they’re going to win the World Cup. What do you make of that?
I don't think they can do it at all. But I know that they think they can do it. My sisters live in America, and I grew up in Jamaica. We know Americans. They are very similar to Australians, they have this attitude that they can win everything, so they do better than they should. If they got to the quarter finals or the last 16 it wouldn't surprise me because they have this attitude - and I'm not talking about arrogance, I'm talking about confidence - because they're Americans, so it doesn't surprise me.
And that's a good trait to have. As much as we're thinking 'it's a throwaway line, they're pretending', they really do believe it. And this is not a criticism because that's what makes them the great people they are. They don't know that they shouldn't be getting to the World Cup quarter finals because the other teams are better than them. So, it's a great trait to have, but if you're asking me whether I think they're misguided I would say probably yes.
Who do you think will win the Golden boot?
Of course, you ought to look at the usual suspects. You've got Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi for Argentina. I wouldn't say they're dark horses because they're one of the favourites, but I think that depending on how well England do, Harry Kane should be up there. Mbappe is obviously going to be up there as well, but Lionel Messi is my favourite player of modern times. I've got a sneaky feeling about Lionel.
And finally, who are you backing to win the World Cup?