Former Liverpool and England winger John Barnes has some valuable advice for aspiring football players: “Be true to yourself and love what you do.”
Barnes, joined by four coaches from the Liverpool FC International Academy, conducted three coaching clinics for 180 kids in Hong Kong on April 16 and 17. The participants, aged six to 14, were children of Standard Chartered staff and clients.
They were taught the “Liverpool way” of playing during the two-hour training sessions. Divided into three groups according to age, they learned basic football skills, such as passing and shooting, teamwork, and keeping possession of the ball.
Barnes insisted the clinics were not an attempt to scout talent for Liverpool, now ranked eighth in the English Premier League.
“We haven’t come here to find the next Steven Gerrard,” he said. “We’re here to let children have some fun.”
Barnes, 52, currently works as a commentator for ESPN and SuperSport. He played for four clubs during his career – Watford, Liverpool, Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic. He ended his 20-year playing career at Charlton Athletic in 1999, when the Addicks were relegated to Division One.
Football meant a lot to Barnes, who was inspired by his father to take up the game. “I was also inspired by the West Germany team in 1974 when they won the World Cup. I grew up playing football and I love football so much, I wouldn’t trade football for any other sport,” said Barnes. “Football is better than any other sports. Although I grew up loving rugby and cricket, I wouldn’t trade them for football.”
Barnes said he enjoyed playing football because it made him happy. “You wouldn’t think about the money you earn. You just have to be true to yourself and love what you are doing,” he said. “Even after becoming a professional footballer, you still have to have that feeling.” It helps define your character, he added.
“Football is a team sport and I love playing with other people, it is like a family,” Barnes said. “There are tennis players, athletes who love individual sports and likes the feeling the sport gave them personally, but I get enjoyment from my teammates having fun and winning. That is what life is about, having a team.”
Barnes believes that Liverpool have a good chance of winning the Uefa Europa League, after their 4-3 comeback victory against Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14.
“With two more games to go, of course we have the potential to win the Europa League,” he said. “So does Villarreal, Sevilla and Shaktar Donestsk. But we’re hopeful.”
He also thinks Jurgen Klopp’s side should concentrate more on the Premier League next season. “We can win the League Cup and finish 15th in the league. Is that success? No. It’s about how well we do in the league. If Liverpool don’t win silverware but finish second in the league, for me, it’s success because it shows how good you are.”
Barnes also talked about England’s chances at this year’s European Championships. Despite boasting top Premier League goalscorers Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, as well as talented youngsters like Dele Ali, Eric Dier and Ross Barkley, England should really set their sights on the 2018 World Cup instead of the Euros, he said.
“Vardy and Kane have no international experience whatsoever,” Barnes, who has 79 England caps, added. “In two years’ time, all of these young players will have more experience.
“So far they [England] have been inconsistent. They have won against Germany, the world champions, but lost to Holland, who haven’t qualified for the Euros.
“You cannot be inconsistent and win the Euros or the World Cup because you have to perform well for four or five games in order to win. So because of their lack of experience, I will not expect them to do well in this year’s Euros.”
To teenagers who want to become professional football players when they are older, Barnes advised them to just enjoy the game.
“First you have to enjoy football,” said Barnes. “It’s not about being a professional footballer, but it’s about playing football. Because what you can’t do is to say, ‘if I can’t be a professional footballer, I don’t want to play football anymore’. You can’t have that attitude. Your attitude should be ‘I love football, I want to play’.
“If you have that attitude and the commitment, you can be a professional footballer but you have to go through the steps like training with your local team. So your love of football is what makes you a professional footballer.”