The Trouble With John Barnes

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Ever hear, or read, something so inane, so obviously nonsensical, that it makes you want to bang your head against the wall?

I felt that way the other day, reading John Barnes telling the world that his race played a part in his being sacked at Celtic, and a role in his not landing a high profile job since he was kicked out of Tranmere back in 2009.

I wonder where he gets that delusional idea from, but as long as he’s not hurting anyone (but his own reputation) under most circumstances I would simply shrug my shoulders and say “if he believes that it’s up to him, but he’s talking through his backside.”

Yet this one is different. For a start, he’s talking about my club here, which forces me to jump in.

Secondly, he’s got support from the Kick It Out campaign … which, to me, is just ridiculous.

I remember the day John Barnes was appointed; a guy with no background in coaching, no previous managerial experience, not even for a reserve side.

When Kenny Dalglish announced that he was bringing Barnes to Celtic Park as part of his “dream team” some in the media praised it as an adventurous exciting development whilst others said it was a huge risk. Debate amongst the Celtic fans was fierce, with many on one side and many on the other.

No-one anywhere, that I heard, made mention of race. It wasn’t a factor.

Football had already moved past that stuff, except for a handful of knuckle-dragging supporters who give the whole sport a bad name.

It was certainly not an issue at Celtic.

I know that I am speaking for the vast, vast, vast majority of our fans when I say that the only criteria that matters to us is whether or not a player can play the game well and whether a manager or a coach can organise a team.

Race, religion, ethnicity, nationality …. What the Hell does any of that matter at all?

We embrace everyone. We shut out no-one.

That’s part of our identity as a club, as I’m fairly certain John Barnes knows well.

Everyone knows what happened at Celtic Park on the night of the Inverness Caledonia Thistle Scottish Cup replay. Our performances had already been slipping. We were on the downslope of an horrendous season. He was playing a system that few could understand, and players were struggling to adapt.

That night, he lost the dressing room completely, in a demonstration of weakness no major figure in the game would have put up with.

When he didn’t walk voluntarily the next day, with the writing on the wall, Celtic had no option but to fire him.

He was out of his depth, and I felt great sympathy for him then and now, although I agreed with what had to be done.

I have always blamed Kenny Dalglish for that, for throwing this inexperienced, but very decent guy, in at the deep end, for making a crazy, and indefensible, decision and actually multiplying it with a mad signing policy that delivered the notorious Rafael Schiedt to our door.

John Barnes was not the right guy for the job, but you can only blame him for so much. He tried his best, but it wasn’t nearly enough and it was never going to be.

Had he gone from Celtic and learned from that experience, chastened, forced to review his time there in a proper way, to gain some insight, I think he may well have gone on to become a decent boss at a mid-table level. But I’ve always felt he spent too much time looking outward, for someone to blame, for reasons other than his own lack of abilities.

That never fosters good behaviour. It makes things worse.

His time at Tranmere was a disaster, and again he learned nothing. Instead he’s spent every minute since doing what he did at Celtic Park, casting around for someone to point the finger at and hiding behind his race as an excuse for his actual failings.

Now he might well have a valid point about the small number of black managers in the game, but he could have changed perceptions by encouraging more black players to get involved in coaching and going for their badges, becoming a good example, and providing a cautionary tale for others who wanted to move up.

Learn your business. Don’t run before you can walk. Take it slow, take it steady, build your reputations first.

All that would have been good advice. It has been serving managers well since the birth of the game. Our own coach, Ronny Deila, is young for the business, but he’s learned through solid graft and putting in his time on the training pitch and elsewhere.

Instead, John Barnes has made his failure into a racial issue, and thus has spent the last few years telling other black guys that it’s pointless, that their progress will be stifled, that they will not be properly respected or considered worthy, that they will not make forward strides because of their skin colour.

It’s nonsense, frankly, and has probably done more to dissuade good candidates from trying to pursue that goal than he will ever be aware.

That is the real tragedy of John Barnes’ time at Celtic Park and his actions since.

There might have been a time when footballers weren’t signed because they were black, or managers weren’t hired because of the same, but in the financially insane results driven business that football has become I think you could probably get away with being a maroon coloured child beater these days and forge a profitable career in the sport if you possessed the right skill-set.

The reasons people don’t get hired, or do and get fired, are pretty self-evident. The good ones last. The dreck don’t.

In short, Barnes wasn’t sacked because he is black. He was sacked because he was crap.

He was given the jobs at Celtic and Tranmere on the back of a sterling reputation as a player, and that reputation was big enough that I’m fairly sure no-one had to look him up in the Football A-Z before he was offered the job. In short, I’m sure they knew which John Barnes they were getting.

“Oh yeah, winger who used to player for Liverpool.”

“That’s him. Black fella.”

I’m sure the conversation went nothing like that.

They didn’t care that he was black.

Being crap, on the other hand … well that was a bridge too far for his gaffers.

That’s what Barnesy needs to face up to, and until then he would be doing a greater service to those he wants to see succeed in the game if he just shut his mouth … or at the very least, found something positive to say.

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  • willbill says:

    Just a crap manager fk all to do with colour mans a prick

  • TJ Hooper says:

    I saw some stats recently. It said 55% of first time managers never get another managerial job. Seems to me that JB already defied the odds getting a second crack at Tranmere after a woeful spell at Celtic. You don’t get three strikes in football – that’s a different sport. Quite agree – race has nothing to do with him not being able to get a managerial job. A track history of failure has everything to do with it.

  • Ian Baillie says:

    I totally agree James, to use any victim card to deflect from your own shortcomings, is, an admission of your acknowledgement of your inadequacies. Great player yes, poor poor manager. I had the same doubts about Ronny roar as I had with John Barnes, given the same results John Barnes would have probably gone on to a successful Celtic career, it most certainly was not a race issue at Celtic Park.

  • steve says:

    his tactics at tranmere were woeful, he had trouble with understanding that the players here were not of the same ability as he was when he played, it didnt help that he had jason mceteer who also had no managerial experience as his no.2
    he got sacked because he did not pay winning football, the same way rob edwards was this season and he is milk white.
    like most fans we are sad when a manager leaves because it means that things are not going well at our club and change is needed.

  • Super E says:

    Tranmere fan here and I have to agree. I think most of us were sad he had to go, but HE HAD to go. The football was awful, the players looked lost on the pitch and the lack of positive results followed. I don’t recall one moment when race creed or colour came into play and, as you rightly said in your piece, the majority of human beings who follow football in this country don’t give a rip about that, they just want good football and pray for results. Our manager at the start of this season was white and ginger, was he sacked for being this? No he was sacked because of our poor performances end of story. I’m not saying racism doesn’t happen, look at Russia etc for confirmation of that but you can’t blame everything that happens on the colour of your skin or your country of origin.

  • owen dolan says:

    James most of the coloured players who became managers I have seen, just did not have what it took to be successful,especially in the Premier league.
    There have been discussions a number of times, and the racist card has been used to promote the fact that no coloured managers were at top football clubs.I am not a expert on football management but it may be that there are none of them with the qualities required.I am sure if any coloured manager was good enough they would be at one of the top teams.
    So its time this card was put to bed.

  • tomtomrembrandt says:

    black,white ,brown , green , yellow, pink,blue or red. who cares what colour you are
    if u are hopeless your hopeless and john was worse than hopeless.
    once he lost henrik he was

  • john aston says:

    totally agree. i’m a tranmere supporter and when john barnes became our manager i was pleased we had a big name and thought he could attract some decent players. nobody cared what colour he was, but he was the worst manager i have come across. not a clue.

  • JOE says:

    apart from frank rijkjard I cant think of many black coaches

  • Peter Campbell says:

    One need only look as far as Henrik Larsson to see that he could not be any more loved if he were any other colour. When I look at Henrik Larsson I do not see an extremely talented footballer who is black, I just see an extremely talented footballer – his colour means not a jot to me.

    I remember when John Barnes came out years ago with his accusation that he would’ve lasted longer at Celtic if he were white and it was Paul Elliot, of all people, who shot it down. He just saw it for the rubbish it was.

  • Paul McCombie says:

    The Trouble with John Barnes…

    Well, they say trouble comes in threes. And for me, not only looking back but also at the time, Barnes particular treble came in the shape of three fantastically talented players who presented an insurmountable task for very different reasons:

    1. Eyal Berkovic
    2. Mark Viduka
    3. Henrik Larsson

    The first had no heart, the second was a petulant child with a lot of growing up to do and the third broke his leg.

    That Barnes had no answer for this particular scenario is solely down to his own shortcomings, presenting at the time as being largely a lack of experience, but latterly most likely also exacerbated by an inability to address his own failings.

    A man that has the lack of self-awareness to still blame others for his downfall 15 years later, would have been found utterly wanting in the dressing room where, within a week of losing Larsson, would start dropping points, would be unable to get the best from the astonishingly talented Berkovic and simply could not fathom what to do with the moody Viduka.

    That Dalglish seemingly left him to it also begs some serious questions to be asked of his own personality.

    In short, Barnes had a supremely talented squad that should have had the ability to horse any team in Scotland, but instead often looked bereft of ideas and lacked cohesion for lengthy periods during matches. This was down to him and nobody else.

  • Andy says:

    Had I been in his position I would have held my hands up and said, “It was too soon to jump into managing straight away.” Then I would’ve contacted fools in the game and tried to get a coaching job under a proven manager and done some leadership courses. Then I would have tried to get a job managing reserves, and made the step up.

  • sam mckeown says:

    I don’t think that race had anything to do with John losing his job at Celtic. However I think he is entitled to feel aggrieved about his sacking. His win record for Celtic is 65.5% which compares pretty well with other Celtic managers. Ronny Deila is on 66% and he is reckoned to be doing well. Lennon and O’Neil were a bit higher but Mowbray was much lower.

  • mick says:

    Well said from a Tranmere fan.

    He has al as o insulted us. He also said he got sacked because he was black. Said a white man would have got longer. – it had nothing to do with shipping 40 goals in 14 games and going ftom a decent team to bottom. Honest. …

  • Tony TRFC says:

    After he was sacked at Tranmere, the physio took over, and did a better job with virtually the same squad.

    That, along with failing at Celtic, means your CV will be straight in the bin, without interview, whatever your skin colour.

    I would, however, celebrate if he was given a chance at York, Hartlepool or Cheltenham, as we are in a relegation dogfight with these to stay in the league!

    Your just not good enough Mr. Barnes, accept it, and stop embarrassing yourself. The kick it out campaign has also lost credibility in backing him with this!

  • George Smith says:

    Race has never been a issue @ Celtic as it stands Jason Denayer will win ???? young player of the year if he is good enough colour does not come into it lets kick out racism now

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