John Barnes today urged fans to support whatever decision the club make in appointing a new manager and outlined why he believes the time is now for Liverpool to develop a long-lasting football philosophy that will set out a blueprint for success.
Talking exclusively to Liverpoolfc.tv in Bangkok, where he was managing the LFC team in the Standard Chartered sponsored EPL Masters Football Thailand tournament, Barnes talks in great depth about the role of the next Liverpool manager, how Liverpool ruled football without a true tactical football philosophy, the role of the fan and player in the modern era and what Liverpool can learn from Lionel Messi.
John, Liverpool are looking for their fourth manager in two years. What's happened because, traditionally, Liverpool have never been known for such instability?
Well, it's been a bit of a shock because I would have expected Kenny to have stayed longer but obviously the owners have taken the decision to move in a different direction and I think this decision now really needs to be for the long-term. People always talk about long-term plans but I think now we have to believe in this decision, regardless of how well or badly we do in the short-term. If the club believes in a new philosophy then they need to stick with it. If it takes two, three or four years to fulfil the plan then we need to give the club time to realise it and make it happen.
Why do you think the owners didn't believe Kenny was the right manager to implement the new direction they want to take the club in?
Well, only the owners know the answer to that question. I can't say why they didn't think he was the right man. They obviously thought he was right for them when they gave him the role but they're new to the industry of football and they've probably been finding their way. Whether they've taken advice along the way and decided that this is now what they've got to do, I can only speculate, but we are where we are now and it's time to support the owners because they want to return Liverpool to a team that competes for the biggest trophies.
Ultimately, I don't believe that what went on in the past is important now. What is important now is the future so as to the whys and wherefores of why it didn't work or what went wrong with Kenny or should Kenny still be there... that doesn't matter. The important thing now is the way forward and until an appointment is made and the 'plan' manifests itself, everything else is just conjecture.
Some fans have questioned the direction of the club and criticised the club for not revealing what the 'plan' is. Would you ever expect a football club to explain publically its intentions?
Well, Liverpool Football Club, probably more so than any other club, are renowned for not talking a lot and telling the world everything they're doing. Kenny himself has always said, 'The club's business is the club's business and when we have something to tell people, we'll tell people'. It's not necessary for fans to know the inner workings of any football club because we don't know the inner workings of any business. I don't think it's necessary for me to know what Liverpool are doing behind the scenes. I'm not interested in that. As long as they know what they're doing, we don't have to know what they're doing. I'm sure in the next week or two or three, it will become more apparent how we intend to move forward when a new manager is unveiled but I don't believe us fans need to know absolutely everything that is going on at the football club.
Kenny leaving has obviously upset some fans because alongside Bill Shankly, he's arguably the greatest ever icon of this football club. Do you think in making this decision, the owners have been forced to look past sentiment and make a tough and possibly unpopular call with some fans?
At a football club, you need to make decisions for football reasons. That is the most important thing. If you make the correct football decisions, you'll achieve success on the pitch and the business success will follow. You can't get the business part right before the football part because everything is determined by success on the pitch. Get it right on the field and the off the field stuff will follow. You make a football decision and it affects the business - either positively or negatively. Kenny knows that. He understands it. As Kenny always says, 'The most important thing is Liverpool Football Club'. Liverpool Football Club was around long before Kenny Dalglish; long before the owners and will continue to be around long after us all. The club is the most important thing of all and the fans are the second most important component, because they'll always be there. These fans aren't going to be here in 100 years but new Liverpool fans will be. The fans and the club are what are important. Not John Barnes, 20 years ago or Kenny Dalglish now or Bill Shankly before that or anyone else in the future. The club is the most important thing and that is why I would urge fans to support the club and the incumbents of the club now happens to be Fenway Sports Group so get behind them and support any decision they take and trust them to do what is best for the club.
There's a lot of talk about a new football philosophy being introduced at Liverpool. Have Liverpool ever really had a football philosophy? People talk about 'pass and move' but is that a true football philosophy?
Well, Liverpool had a philosophy of sorts but that was before comprehensive tactics came into the game in England. From Bill Shankly's time, it was all about getting the ball down and passing and moving - which really doesn't mean anything - but if you had good enough players doing that, it worked. The footballers basically made the philosophy, not the other way around. So when people talk about buying 'Liverpool-type' players, it wasn't that you came in and Liverpool really instigated anything in you or tried to change you - it just meant you could play. The greatest thing about Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish, first time around, was that they could spot a player who could come and fit into what was already going on. Nothing was particularly structured but the players could adapt to whatever style they came into. I always use the example of George Graham at Arsenal, who beat us to the league in 1989, as the first time tactics really became noticed in English football. There's always been tactics in European and South American football but in England it was always all about good footballers playing off the cuff, keeping the ball but not really playing with any structure. Graham Taylor at Watford was the first person to really introduce tactics to English football. His structure was organisation and it was very successful for Watford.
Then George Graham took it to another level and as much as people talked about 'boring, boring Arsenal', they won the league and it was very successful. They were structured, disciplined and very tactically aware. Arsene Wenger then came to England and changed that whole culture of playing good attractive football but in a structure which Ajax and Barcelona have always done. So Liverpool, or any other team in England, has never really had that kind of philosophy that Ajax had. Rinus Michels started it at Ajax, took it to the Dutch national side then took it to Barcelona and Pep Guardiolla has just reinforced that because the Barcelona team that Pep Guardiola had was basically a reinvention of the Barcelona team under Johan Cruyff from the '90s which was in turn a reinvention of the Dutch team. So that philosophy of putting a template in place to teach to the kids from the age of 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and right through to the first team is really an Ajax method which Barcelona and certain other teams have adopted. Andy Cole tells me that Manchester United has that now and that's what you need.
You need to have a philosophy throughout the club - from top to bottom - so that you can develop footballers to help you win trophies. You don't develop footballers to play for other clubs. You develop footballers to fit into your system. Unless you have a proper philosophy, you'll find that players being developed in your youth teams may not fit into your first team because your first team doesn't play that way and that doesn't make sense. What a philosophy allows you to do is create longevity and success at a football club. If you look at the Barcelona team, they may always sign one or two superstars but the majority of the players are ones who've been brought up playing the Barcelona way. So first of all, you have to have a philosophy about how you want to play today and then you have to look at players who can fit into that style of play. Not just buying players because they are good or they are good at other clubs. You may go out and sign the best 15-year-old in the country but if the best 15-year-old in the country is a great outside left who puts crosses in and your philosophy is that you don't play with wingers, he's not going to be any good for your team. So first of all you need to have a philosophy and a vision for how you want to play and then you pick the players to fit into that system and not the other way around.
Have Liverpool been guilty of doing just that in the past?
Well, first of all, I don't think Liverpool have had a philosophy of how we want to play. They've seen which players have done well at other clubs and then gone out and bought them and then hoped that it works. A lot of the time, it hasn't. With Ajax and Barcelona, because they know how they want to play, they can go and get the right player for their system. It might be an unfashionable player at another club, but he may fit into your system perfectly. Seydou Keita, at Barcelona for example, could move to a Premier League club and not do anything but he fits into how Barcelona play.
With your own philosophy, you don't need to necessarily look at the best players in the world - players Liverpool might not be able to afford - but rather you can go out and buy a player who will do a better job in your team than they do in their current side but it may not cost you a lot of money.
Twenty five years ago when you were playing for Liverpool, the club could go out and buy the best players in the country. Things are different now and what attracts players is not always success. Location, wages, transfer funds available, Champions League football - these are all factors that influence footballers' decisions in the modern game. Does that mean Liverpool need to be cleverer than ever when it comes to dealings in the transfer market?
Well, Liverpool were successful for two reasons back when I first joined the club. Firstly, we could attract the best players to the club and secondly, until Graham Taylor and George Graham came along, no one in England was playing cohesive, coordinated football that had any structure. Everything was just, get out there, pass and move, the manager massages your ego with 'Come on lads', 'up and at 'em' and 'get stuck in' shouts. West Ham and Norwich always had this thing of playing good football because they bought pretty players who could keep the ball but that's not a model for success because one day they'd play well and the next they wouldn't - they were inconsistent. So yes, we could buy the best players but on top of that, no one else was tactically able to combat Liverpool until Arsenal came along with George Graham and then, of course, Alex Ferguson did well at Manchester United and then Arsenal were transformed under Arsene Wenger. Everybody does it now.
Now Liverpool are at a stage where they can't get all the best players in the world - so what do you do? You better come up with a system and a vision of how you want your team to play. Swansea are a good example, I suppose. They may not have the best players in the country because they've had players who've played with them in the lower divisions but they are still there because they understand that system they play. They don't need the best players but they are still competitive. But make no mistake; Liverpool can still attract very, very, very good players. They may not be able to get [Lionel] Messi but they can get very, very good players and with a proper system, which I'm sure the new manager will introduce, they can be successful.
If this summer marks the start of LFC starting again - a year zero in football terms - then it's not going to be a quick fix, is it?
No. It took years for Barcelona to get to where they are now. They had it and then they moved away from it and now they've got it again. Under Cruyff they had it and then new managers came in and they changed the whole philosophy.
The whole point of a system is that you don't change it. You don't change the philosophy. Ajax had it and lost it as well. New men come in with their own ideas and change the entire philosophy of the club and then what happens is that you're reliant on that manager being there forever to continue that. That can't happen so you have constant change and if you have constant change, there's no continuity and no stability. It's very expensive too as you waste money on players. On top of all that, it's rarely successful.
A club needs a thread running right through it; Barcelona has that. It's like the whole concept of a technical director in Spain. Because it's not common in England, we don't tend to understand it but in Spain, the technical director will know the long-term plan for the club and regardless of which manager comes in - yes, he can bring his own ideas, but he can't alter the philosophy and football identity of that club - he has to buy into that identity of the club which is shaped culturally and socially by the region and by the fans and also by the way that they want to play.
It's so important, not just because managers will invariably come and go, but because players will also come and go. You don't see many players at clubs for 10 years anymore so you can't just keep getting different types of players every two years and expect any type of consistency. Whereas if you know the kind of player you want in every position at your club, if your superstar player leaves, you can simply get someone else to fill that role.
You talk about Barcelona a lot. Who is the most important person at Barcelona FC - is it the manager or is it the technical director?
The traditions and ethics of Barcelona Football Club are the most important thing.
What type of manager do you need to come in and develop a real football philosophy?
What you want is a manager with a very clear vision of how he wants his team to play football. That's the most important thing because when you're at a top club like Liverpool, you will be able to buy players who can fit into your system. You don't need 11 players like Lionel Messi to create a system. What will help is if you can get good players to fit into your system and then try and compliment them with a couple of superstars because there will always be times when systems don't work. Barcelona didn't win the Champions League this season because their system didn't work against Chelsea. They totally outplayed them and had loads of chances but they couldn't finish chances off. There was nothing wrong with their system but what they needed was a moment of individual brilliance and they didn't get it on the night. What a system does is give you a base for consistency. If Messi doesn't dribble around three players and score a wonder goal every week, it doesn't matter because 99% of the time the Barcelona system will beat you anyway. If every player understands their role within the team, that will breed consistency and with consistency comes competitiveness.
Both the club and the supporters are going to need to be patient while things develop - because if it was an easy quick fix, everyone would be doing it, wouldn't they?
There needs to be a lot of patience - both in the boardrooms and in the stands. How long will it take? It will take a long time but it won't take as long as Liverpool fans have been waiting to see the team win the Premier League. So, yes it could take a long time to develop it and start reaping the benefits from it but maybe if a system was put in place 20 years ago, we wouldn't still be waiting to win our first title since 1990. If we keep changing the manager, the players or the system every one, two, three or four years, we could be waiting another 20 years to win the title too.
Patience is not something a lot of the 'I want it now' generation seem to have though...
You need to ask these fans to support the club. There's a clue in the word supporter - that's what you do, you offer support to the club. If the Liverpool fans in 2005 didn't offer support to the team at half-time when we were 3-nil down, then Liverpool would not have won the Champions League. The fans could easily have turned their backs on the team and booed the players because they were losing 3-nil but if they had of done that, Liverpool would not have come back. It was the same in the semi-final of the FA Cup against Everton. One-nil down at half-time and not playing well but the fans supported the team and look what happened.
So if you do implement a plan and there are times when things are not going well, think about how much the club needs your support and what unconditional support can actually achieve. I understand fans frustrations but if everyone is giving 100% and everyone is trying their best, then you need to be patient and you need to support them through thick and thin.
If things don't go well instantly, the media can quickly turn...
The media exist to sell newspapers and, of course, negativity sells, especially in England, so the media have no role whatsoever to play in Liverpool's success. It's down to the fans and the club to stick together.
The appointment of the next manager is now on the agenda but there are very different styles of managers out there. What sort of manager do Liverpool need to employ?
What sort of manager? The right one. What we have to do is respect the manager of Liverpool Football Club no matter who he is. The players have to give him that respect because if they have respect for the fans and respect for the club's decisions, they have to have respect for the manager. That's why I always use the example of Barcelona when it comes to how a football club should be. Lionel Messi might be the biggest superstar in the world but he respects his team-mates, he respects football, he respects the fans and he respects the manager - whoever that manager may be. Players should have no say over who a manager should be; they should not have any input into whether they believe one manager is better than another. Whoever the manager of a football club is, he is the most important person and everyone should respect him. No one can undermine him. This is why I talk about Barcelona and Lionel Messi because they understand how to be successful and to be successful you need to be a team.
Lionel Messi sees himself the same way he sees his team-mates. Forget the way we see Lionel Messi - we see him as being better than his team-mates - but that's not how he sees it. Financially he will get more money, he will get bigger sponsorship deals, he will get more kudos and all the rest but he still sees himself as the same as all his team-mates and also his team-mates on the bench. That's what unity is. They have respect for the fans and they have respect for the manager, whoever the club employs. That is what we need to do.
What if Liverpool were to appoint a manager who is young and has not won anything yet? Would it concern you that Liverpool were trying to achieve success with a manager who has never tasted it so far in his managerial career?
Well, what is success? Is a manager guiding a team to safety - a team like Wigan, for example - less successful than Harry Redknapp guiding Tottenham to fourth or fifth? Which manager has been more successful in terms of working with what they've got? All you can ever do as a manager is maximise the potential for that team and if maximising the potential of that team means you finish fourth from bottom, and a team who finishes second doesn't maximise their potential because they should have finished first, the manager of the team who has beaten relegation has had a more successful season.
Ian Holloway nearly keeping Blackpool up was for me a great feat than Carlo Ancelotti finishing second with Chelsea. So regardless of whether Roberto Martinez, who is one manager who has been linked with Liverpool, just kept Wigan up, that means nothing. Could Alex Ferguson keep Wigan up? Could Jose Mourinho keep Wigan up? We don't know but what Roberto has done is he has maximised the potential of that team and therefore if he goes to a better team, as long as we believe he can maximise the potential for that team, he will be successful.
It's not about who is fashionable at any given time. It's about maximising the potential of the team you have. You need to look at how Martinez has done it - his methods and his philosophy in terms of how you want football to be played. There is no right or wrong way of playing football. Stoke play football the way they do and that's 100% right for them. I have no issue with that whatsoever. No one way is better than the other - however, if you are talking about the ethics and traditions of a football club, maybe you will say, you'd rather have Roberto Martinez than Tony Pullis. Tony Pullis and Stoke finished higher than Wigan did under Martinez and Tony's methods are fine - they may just not be right for a Liverpool, a West Ham or an Arsenal. Does the manager you want for your team like his team to play football the way you want and do you think he can maximise the potential of the players at his disposal and can he bring in players of quality to help interpret his vision of how he wants the team to play? That's the questions you need to be asking. At Liverpool you can do that. You don't have to spend £50m or £100m on players - look at Newcastle, they spent money wisely and bought great players. There are great players out there to endorse whatever football you want without having to spend a fortune.
Should age or a lack of success be a determining factor in who you do or don't appoint?
Well, a lack of success would be an issue if you'd been around for a long period of time - say 10 years - and you've done nothing. Obviously it depends on what you consider success to be. As I say, Martinez keeping Wigan in the Premier League is success for me. In terms of age, I guess it has to be a factor because if you're looking for experience, a first time manager shouldn't get a job at a club like Liverpool if they've never managed before. Martinez has been around for maybe four or five years, he was at Swansea before Wigan, so while his age limits the amount of experience he can possibly have, in terms of the success he's had in the last four years, I think he has proven he is a good manager.
If you had to design a new football philosophy for Liverpool, what would it look like?
[Laughs] How long have you got?! Well, first of all you have to decide what kind of football you want to play. It's such a comprehensive vision, it would take me so long to explain, you'd have to go through every position and go into detail on what is the requirement of this position - when the goalkeeper gets the ball, where should the full backs be? Where should the centre-halves be? Where do the midfield players go? You need to do that for every position and every different scenario that can arise in a game. Understanding the philosophy and the method is the most important thing. The workings of it will always be different. Graham Taylor, for example, his philosophy was a long ball game however everybody in their position knew exactly what was required from them.
Formations mean nothing. Look at 4-4-2 for example... Watford played 4-4-2 and Liverpool played 4-4-2 but the way they played it was completely different. It's more to do with the players understanding their role in that team for 90 minutes. Every time the ball is in a particular position on the pitch, where are the players? What position do they need to get into to be in the correct area on the pitch no matter what the circumstance is?
I've watched Brazil train and they go through this for hours and hours and hours. It's quite boring to watch but once you understand the method and you see it in action - as you do with Barcelona - it looks like they can play it with their eyes closed. It takes a long time to implement but once it's implemented and the players understand it, then what happens is you don't have to rely on players to do individual brilliant things to win you matches. Sometimes you need a moment of brilliance but for 99% of the time, it does work and if 99% of the time your philosophy works then you'll be happy.
We talked a lot about the manager but obviously it will be the players who need to play for that manager. How important is it that they totally buy into the whole culture of the club and what it means to the fans?
It's massively important. What's most important is the respect that the players have for the fans and the region where the team is. When you join Liverpool from another club you need to understand what is required of them in terms of embracing Scouse life. For example, in London, because of the nature of London, the Arsenal fans don't necessarily have to have a relationship with the Arsenal players because you've got the West End and people in London see famous celebrities and how they act. They then expect their football players to act the same way.
In Liverpool, you can't do that. When myself and Peter Beardsley came to Liverpool - and he was the most expensive player in British football at that time - we knew that we had to have a relationship with the fans whereas I don't think I would have had that relationship with the fans if I'd signed for Arsenal, for example. Newcastle is quite similar to Liverpool in that respect. That's what I'm talking about when I talk about Barcelona - and the whole Catalan culture. If you look at Messi, Xavi [Hernandez] and [Andres] Iniesta, if they go out in Barcelona, they can't go out as superstars and ignore fans and ask for minders in restaurants to block fans from asking for autographs. They can't do that because they understand their club and their supporters. Maybe you can get away with that in London or Madrid but in Liverpool and Barcelona you can't do that. As a footballer, you can't behave like that if you're a Liverpool player. It's all about understanding the city, the culture, the fans and if you match that with a footballing philosophy, you won't go far wrong.
Is it all intrinsically linked? If Liverpool players embrace the fans, the fans will embrace them and offer them more support and if they get more support, our chances of success are far greater?
You're trying to create harmony. That harmony was there in Istanbul. The fans supported the players that night and we know what happened next. The players have to give something back though and that's so important. Unfortunately we live in a culture in England where fans actually expect to be snubbed by players. They expect players to not want to sign autographs or to not want to talk to them because football players are aloof. But the important thing is not what fans expect, it is how you personally behave. What's important is not how fans see you, but how you see yourself. Fans may see you as a superstar who won't want to come over and have a drink or talk to them but you need to change that perception.
You need to see yourself as a part of the community, which is the whole Bill Shankly theory. That was his philosophy - everyone being 'one'. Unfortunately with the advent of the Premier League, fans have become so detached from players - more so than in any other country. Look at the difference between how the Barcelona players act and the way lots of Premier League players act. The players there have the humility to respect football in the first instance and to respect the club and the fans secondly. That's a fantastic way to be. It's the perfect model and it's a model that Liverpool should aspire towards.