Friday, September 5, 2008

How much would John Barnes earn now?

While enjoying a pie and a pint at lunch with a colleague, our conversation turned to former Liverpool star John Barnes. Not his international career (which, incidentally, was nowhere near as bad as some remember), but his consistently inspiring performances for Liverpool.

Given the current discussions about the obscene amount of money in the game, including Manchester City's Robinho's assumed wage of £160,000-a-week), the topic soon turned to wondering how much Barnes would earn if he was playing, at his peak, in the Premier League today? We both agreed the highly unscientific amount of "a lot." but couldn't decide exactly how much!

When Barnes was at his true peak, in the late 80s (and before Sky money destroyed top-flight football), he regularly performed above and beyond the level of any other player, at club level, in the country. If English clubs were not barred from Europe at that point, he surely would have dazzled audiences across the continent.

Has any player impressed as much as Barnes at club level since? The only player worthy of mentioning is Cristiano Ronaldo, and specifically during last season. Apart from Ronaldo, many have shone at times - for example, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Steve McManaman, Ryan Giggs - but no others have consistently performed so far ahead of the rest of the field.

So to those who think football is in a good condition and there are no problems with the English Premier League, take a look again at John Barnes in action. Is it right that mediocre, teenage bench-warmers can earn so much more than he did at his peak? I think not.

International football was good once!

Before top-flight football began its inevitable slide towards death, international football used to be a real attraction. The best players would put aside their club rivalries and the sheer pride on their faces when they pulled on their national jersey was a joy to behold.

The last time I remember English players acting as though representing their country was the absolute pinnacle of their career was at World Cup '90 in Italy, when Bobby Robson's side were just a few spot-kicks away from the final, and a likely win against a ghastly Argentina slide.

Since then, apart from a brief glimmer in 1996 when the European Championships were held in England (which may explain the glimmer!), international football has become something of a turn off. Perhaps it's just an English thing, but the problem does seem deeper than that.

England, by rights, should be reaching the semi-finals of the two major tournaments - at the very least. How many other top-20 countries have all but one of their players (the increasingly immobile Beckham) playing in their domestic league? Surely it's none!

But club football has become more important - I now honestly believe a player would rather play in the Champions League knock-out stages than represent his country. A player's wage demands also seem to increase far more if they play in Europe than if they are an international.

Another issue is the transition of football from a sport to sports entertainment. It used to be nearly 100 per cent about what happened on the pitch. Now it's nowhere near that. It's a multi-billion pound industry where fans are just as interested in who is sleeping with who as who is putting the ball in the net.

The problem with football as sports entertainment is the hype that goes with it. Managers and players create "characters" in order to get the headlines. They exaggerate their own personality and have fun with it. When they start taking pot-shots at each other, the individual and character get so muddled it must make for some awkward moments come England duty.

And, without wishing to get too political, it's about a decline in standards. When England won the World Cup in 1966, one of the enduring images is of Bobby Moore wiping his muddied hands before shaking hands with the Queen. The players could hold their own in interviews and came across as thoroughly decent human beings. Now look at the current England squad...

So when England line-up against Andorra tomorrow, what will the players be thinking? Will all of them give 100 per cent, at the risk of picking-up an injury? By rights, England should score at least five, but will that happen? Or will they do enough and then take their feet off the gas, in order to keep as fresh as possible for their clubs?

And they wonder why fans are turning away from the games in their droves!

Keegan's brilliant, too early for Shearer - Shepherd

Alan Shearer may not have been the best footballer (good goalscorer, yes) but he clearly has his head screwed on correctly - if reports claiming he will turn down any offers to become the next Magpies boss.

Following Kevin Keegan's resignation yesterday, the earlier favourites for the job are Gus Poyet, Dennis Wise and Alan Shearer. But former Toon chairman Freddy Shepherd has said he would be "very surprised" if Shearer opted to take the job.

He told the Daily Mail: "I’d be very surprised if Alan Shearer took the job. I just think he wants to give it a bit longer before he goes into management."

Shepherd also pointed out when he worked with Keegan, the boss identified the players and attempts were then made to raise the funds - seemingly in stark contrast to the situation under Mike Ashley, who Keegan claimed had a structure which forced players upon him.

Shepherd said: "When I was there with Kevin we had a simple strategy. Kevin identified the players and we tried to get the money to buy them. I don’t know what’s happening with Mike’s structure, whether it’s fallen apart, but I worked with Kevin for five years and he was fantastic."

The whole situation is clearly idiotic and farcical, but a perfect example of what is wrong with modern football. The game isn't run by fans, players and managers, but by the few money-men at the top. They have earned their money in life and are enjoying spending it. But do they really know the feeling of anticipation real fans have when Saturday comes?