Former Liverpool midfielder John Barnes has told William Hill’s new podcast, Up Front with Simon Jordan, that Graeme Souness’s criticism of his Liverpool career is “not fair at all”, adding that the former Reds boss was too abrasive in his approach at transforming the club’s culture during his unsuccessful managerial stint at Anfield.
Appearing on William Hill’s Up Front with Simon Jordan, a brand-new podcast hosted by the former Crystal Palace owner who speaks to sports stars and celebrities and challenges their opinions whilst scrutinising their careers, Barnes was asked by Jordan if Souness’ perception of the former England midfielder being “in his armchair” and “not the player he should have been” during his time at the club was justified.
Barnes responded: "I don’t think his perspective of me is fair, not fair at all. When Graeme [Souness] first arrived at the club, we went out together and we talked about how he was going to build the team around me and how great it was going to be."
"I then started having injuries – this was in 1991. Graeme then felt frustrated in me because I wasn’t able to do the things that I used to be able to before. When I ruptured my Achilles tendon, they thought I would never play football again – the doctor actually told me this after I retired. He said that not only did it rupture, it shredded, which means when they tried to put it back together they had to cut it shorter. At the time I was just happy to be back playing, I wasn’t noticing that I couldn’t run, I was just glad to be back on the field."
"I understand Graeme’s frustration because all of a sudden, I wasn’t able to be the player he expected me to be. If, for example, Teddy Sheringham ruptured his Achilles tendon, it’s not going to affect him because he doesn’t rely on pace. Therefore, the player Graeme wanted me to be, I couldn’t physically be that. I had to be in the team because we had nobody else and that’s why I sympathise with him a bit, but from my own personal perspective I was just wondering about whether I was ever going to play again!"
Liverpool staff resisted Souness’ approach
Barnes then reflected more broadly on Souness’ managerial stint with Liverpool between 1991 and 1994, suggesting that even members of the coaching staff were reluctant to adhere to his principles, resulting in a “difficult” period for the club.
"Liverpool’s way was always about the senior players, and I think Graeme should have understood that,” said Barnes. “When Graeme and Kenny Daglish played and were the main players, they were the ones that disciplined the players and sorted everything out. They had that power in the changing room."
"When Graeme arrived as manager, a lot of the senior players left, and he brought in a lot of younger players who have Graeme to thank for their careers. The senior players then didn’t have that power anymore – once the Bosman rule came in, the younger players became more important, and the senior players became surplus to requirements. That meant that the whole Liverpool way of coming in and learning from the senior players was completely gone. It was a difficult time for Graeme, for Liverpool, and for me as well."
"I have a lot of empathy for Graeme because he was right in trying to change that culture, but he was doing at a time when there was a lot of resistance towards it – even from the staff. At the time, Liverpool were steeped in the Bob Paisley and Kenny Daglish tradition of ‘we go out, we get drunk, then we all play together.’ They didn’t even have proper training sessions, they just played five a side!"
You can watch the full episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=askNva8TR34