Liverpool and England legend John Barnes is starting another chapter of his life in football, this time at the helm of the Jamaican national team. Appointed head coach in mid-September, Kingston-born Barnes, will begin his stint with the Reggae Boyz on 19 November against already-eliminated Canada. If the islanders win, and things go their way in the Honduras-Mexico meeting, they will find themselves through to the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone.
FIFA.com sat down for exclusive chat with the one-time skill merchant, most beloved during his time at Anfield and with England at two FIFA World Cups, to talk about his hopes for the future, his latest attempt at management and the man who helped shape his surprisingly pragmatic philosophy of football.
FIFA.com: As a player you were accustomed to such hallowed and manicured cathedrals as Anfield, Old Trafford and Wembley. The Cuscatlan Stadium in El Salvador and the Hasely Crawford in Trinidad should be a change of pace...
John Barnes: This is what I tell the players: '110 by 70.' Those are the dimensions of a football pitch, any football pitch where you are likely to end up, give or take a few metres here there, and I'm trying to instil in the lads a the sense that you need to play football the same way whether it be in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Trinidad or the ‘Office' here in Kingston. In your mind it has to be the same as playing at Anfield or Wembley or anywhere else. In fact, I would go so far as to say that when you go out on the training pitch you should be playing as if it were Wembley or a World Cup final. That's how you get to Wembley and to the big grounds of Europe, that's for sure.
You're currently in the Cayman Islands for your first training camp with some of the locally-based lads. How's it going?
The weather has not been cooperating, so we've only trained twice. But we'll soon be playing the Caymans' national team in a friendly and I'll know a lot more then. What we have here is mainly the guys playing for the local clubs in Jamaica - not the crux of the national team that are playing in the World Cup qualifiers - but it's still important to get a look at them as they will be the ones playing in the Caribbean Cup in 2008 and that's the road to the next CONCACAF Gold Cup (2009). There are some fine young players in this crop, and they are the future of the Reggae Boyz.
There's a lot of talk about management 'philosophies' these days. You had a time in charge at Celtic in 1999. Do you have a philosophy now?
I've got something, but I would call it an identity or a strategy more than a philosophy. I preach a formula, a system that supersedes the individuals who I may or may not have at my disposal. The nature of international football is like that, sometimes you don't know who you're going to have. So, I basically want my formula to be strong enough where players can move in and out of the squad and it won't be too damaged by it. Structure and identity are important in any football team.
How do you hammer a point like that home to a team?
The most important thing I can tell my players is: 'Learn to be more professional. Play the same way all the time.' They need to give their all on the pitch every time they step out there, no matter who the opponent is. You can't give 50 per cent sometimes and then expect to turn it on like a switch when you need to. That's not the spirit of a good footballer and I am going to be sure I grind this into the lads here.
When you signed on with the Jamaican FA, the Reggae Boyz were looking likely to go out of the reckoning for South Africa 2010. That's no longer the case, and your first game could be quite meaningful...
The last wins, against Honduras (1-0) and Mexico (1-0), the boys really did seem to turn it on. And even though things are a little out of our hands, in the Canada game at home we have to give it everything. We have to match the performances of the last two games and try to improve, always improve. You need to want to get better every time you step out on to a pitch, any pitch.
How do you see things going on this crucial day (19 November) on which Mexico, Jamaica or Honduras will go out of the hunt for South Africa?
All we can do is focus on ourselves and hope things go right. Firstly, we need a result. That's what we can do for ourselves and that's the one thing we can control.
Finding a balance between overseas stars like Ricardo Gardner (Bolton) and Ricardo Fuller (Stoke) and the young ones playing at home has always been a tough ask for Jamaica bosses. Is it a problem for you?
Overseas guys like Gardner and Fuller are the backbone of the team now, there's no getting around that. Once you'd have a nearly even blend of local talent and guys over in Britain and Scandinavia and other places. But now, 99 per cent of the players are abroad. I don't really see that changing. I plan to play my best team every time, if that's 22 overseas guys, then that's what it is. Of course you want to bring some lads along too.
You've played for some of the greats in the English game. Does one of them stand out as someone you'd like to model yourself on as a boss?
I wouldn't point to one because I've had some great bosses, like Bobby Robson (England) and Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool). But my first club, Watford, had one of the great bosses in Graham Taylor. He always got the best out of players who weren't always the strongest individually, and he did it through building a system that worked week in and week out. Jamaica will be underdogs who, I hope, can overachieve and I learned about that from the best with Taylor. We need that same spirit.