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Interview with John Barnes and Paul Dickov: Modern football expects too much from youngsters

Part 1 of the interview with the legends of the game, John Barnes and Paul Dickov.


John Barnes
John Barnes

The month was May, a time when the weather is decent enough to plan a holiday to Brazil. In the pleasant weather of Rio de Janeiro, a teenager, barely 16, probably had the biggest post-summer perspiration of his career when he found out he was soon going to be a Real Madrid player.

Vinicius Junior, the talented Flamengo starlet, managed to become the second most expensive Brazilian export – after Neymar of course – from the Brazilian league a few months back, and will complete the move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2018 for a reported fee of £39.6m. Yes, you heard that right.

Despite all the TV deals and massive sponsorship agreements being struck in modern day football, it’s still pretty hard to comprehend the gargantuan transfer prices clubs pay for players who have barely played a handful of games.

It’s amazing how football has changed in a couple of decades. At the Premier League Live event in Bengaluru, and Sportskeeda caught up with former stalwarts of the game, John Barnes and Paul Dickov, to get their perception on the same.

Barnes, a Kop idol and someone who rose through the ranks at Watford before establishing himself as an England and Liverpool regular -- boy, he was more than just a regular -- opined that there should be more leeway for the youngsters to develop despite the big money they go for.

Of late, we’ve seen massive price tags on young players like Vinicius Junior, Renato Sanches and Luke Shaw. We asked Barnes if the situation is irreversible with so much money involved in the game and here’s what he had to say:

“It is something that is unchangeable but I don’t think it’s good. Because what used to happen in my days was before you got a chance to play at a top club you had to show a level of consistency over a period of time. So I had six years at Watford, and four years playing for England before I went to Liverpool.

“What happens now is if a player plays six months at his club and he plays well, he then gets a transfer to a big club. But is he able to handle the pressure? Is he able to show the consistency? Because with youth comes inconsistency, so you need the room to develop without being under pressure. But all of a sudden you go to a club where you’ll be under pressure because you cost a lot of money and people expect a lot from you. And I suppose that’s what England are going through.

“I think now we expect too much from these young players by exaggerating how good they are. They’ve got great potential. To realise that potential, you’ve got to handle them properly.

Like Barnes, the former Arsenal and Manchester City striker, Paul Dickov, had to work his way up to the senior team. Dickov had a few loans spells before moving to Manchester City, and by then, he had the experience to put in consistent performances for the Sky Blues.

While Dickov also pointed out the experience, he highlighted the mental readiness that was prevalent more than a decade and a half ago, something that isn’t necessarily present in the cash-rich top-flight leagues across Europe.

“Speaking for myself and the players that I’ve played with, you had to earn the right first, and that wasn’t over six months or a year. I was at Arsenal for seven years before I managed to get my move. But if I hadn’t had those seven years, I honestly don’t think I would have had the career that I had."

“The big thing with me, where I don’t agree with the system, is when I was an apprentice back in the day, you had to clean players’ boots. You had to clean changing rooms, you had to get in at seven in the morning. And that discipline, the football and life education you get at that age was invaluable to me and my teammates. And I don’t think the kids coming through now are exposed to that. It’s not their fault, it’s the way the system is these days."

“But they play this lovely technical football without necessarily knowing what it takes to become a footballer.”

Adapting to the changing scene will be key in the coming years and we could yet see the younger players impress in the coming years. Considering the amount of money being spent, the players don’t have any option really, and as Dickov put it so eloquently, if they know what it takes, the price tag won’t matter!

More of the interview to follow…

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