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Exclusive: Liverpool Legend John Barnes on How Reds Can Build on Champions League Triumph

We talked squad depth and dynasties with the Reds great in New York ahead of the club’s pre-season tour.

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Launch of the Liverpool FC Legend Tour press conference announcement Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images

For the Reds, the 2018-19 season ended in triumph with a sixth European Cup. Now, it’s almost time to go again, and as part of the club’s North American pre-season tour plans, Liverpool legend John Barnes was in New York this week meeting with fans—and we were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to him about the squad, its manager, and what comes next for Liverpool FC.

Tito O: Thanks for joining me, John. It’s a great time to be Reds fan! I can’t imagine there’s ever been this level of excitement for a Liverpool pre-season tour as there has been for this one.

John Barnes: Absolutely, it’s an exciting time to be here, especially after the season we’ve had. Of course, we had a bit of disappointment before the Champions League win, but to finish on 97 points and lose one game is something you cannot call a failure. It was nothing short of a fantastic season. Going into the Champions League final having lost the Premier League, there was a bit more pressure. It wasn’t the greatest performance but we won and that’s the most important thing.

On Establishing A Dynasty

TO: For many younger Reds supporters, the famous Champions League win a few weeks ago is the first taste of success in their time following the club. In your opinion, what do FSG and Klopp need to do to start to push on and establish a real period of dominance?

JB: Well, we’re not going to establish a period of dominance, per se, because teams like Manchester City are around. For that reason, Liverpool will most likely not dominate every year. You also have the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham who will most likely be resurging sometime soon, so those days of dominating for 10-15 years are gone. Instead we need to make sure we are creating an environment within the club to be competitive and to be consistent, which is what FSG and Jürgen Klopp have done.

Last season we were very, very consistent but that wasn’t enough to even win the league. I don’t think we’re going to go and get 97 points again next season, but does that mean we won’t be as good as we were this year? Definitely not. So instead, what we have to demand is that we are consistent and that each year we are putting ourselves in a position to win the league and win the Champions League.

On Improving The Squad

TO: There haven’t been any first team additions to the squad as of yet, but these tours can be an exciting first look into changes and the tactical shifts Klopp makes over the summer. Is there anything new you’re looking forward to seeing?

JB: I actually feel the opposite. I’m looking for something exciting but not necessarily anything new. Last season we needed players like Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson to come into the team to be the main pieces in the squad and maximize the potential we had. This year, I don’t think there are any players who will be coming in to take the place of Salah, Mané, Firmino, or Van Dijk, so instead what we need to is supplement the squad. I don’t think we’re going to go out and get a player for £100m to go straight into the team, but we don’t need that.

TO: It definitely is a great feeling being able to look out there in the market and see that aren’t too many players available who would improve the starting XI.

JB: But there are players out there who can improve the next nine or ten players after that, which is a relatively easier thing to do. Our current rivals, even City included, currently need a few players to improve the first XI and there aren’t that many players out there like that. We don’t need that and we’re just looking for players to improve the squad.

On Pre-Season Expectations

TO: With the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Naby Keita coming off a busy summer schedule at the African Cup of Nations tournament, are there any youngsters or players returning from injury your particularly excited to see in action this pre-season?

To be honest, the players I’m most excited about are Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It’s cliché, but they’re like two new signings, two established internationals coming back into the squad. Which is also another reason why we don’t necessarily need to go out and sign anyone else.

We’ve obviously lost Alberto Moreno and Daniel Sturridge, neither of who featured that frequently in the first place, so in that sense we’ve immediately improved without making any new actual signings at all.

TO: For me personally, I am also excited to get a good look at Rhian Brewster playing with the first team. We know opinion is high about him around the club and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can step up to the plate.

Of course. He’ll be used sparingly and handled well. Of course when you have Salah, Mané, and Firmino it will be hard to break them out of the team. Brewster will be someone who can hopefully come in and supplement them. It’s interesting to see development but we have to give him time, not put too much pressure on him, and if he’s not playing too well then we can’t be too critical of him.

On the Fanbase and Jürgen Klopp’s Impact On Club Culture

TO: How would you describe the reception you’ve had among the American fans so far, especially after winning number six in Madrid just a few weeks ago?

I’ve been coming the States for the supporter’s events for the past 10 years and it’s always been great. It’s been different this year obviously due to our success, but even in previous years when we haven’t been so successful, the fans have still always been very loyal, passionate, and excited so that hasn’t changed.

I’ve been as far as India, China, Australia, and Southeast Asia and everywhere I’ve gone, the passion of Liverpool fans has been there through thick and thin.

TO: From your insider’s perspective as having been one of the club’s greatest players, what do you notice about the culture Klopp has managed to instill in the club in this short time here that’s different from what’s came before—and pretty much anything else currently out there in the world of football.

The identity on the pitch is clear. No matter how we feel about the players in the team, there is a certain dynamic and profile that they fit under Jürgen Klopp. The likes of Kevin DeBruyne and David Silva are fantastic players, Liverpool under Klopp don’t want players like that. We have a team where we don’t have the best players as much as we need and have players who fit into the system Klopp has put in place.

The teams I played for had that similar clear understanding of our identity but it’s also apparent that we also haven’t seen that in the last 15 years at the club. The club, the city, the fans have clear expectations of the effort and desire they want to see from this team and that’s the difference between the Liverpool team that you see now and the teams in the last 10-15 years.

TO: As a supporter who’s followed this team through some of the more barren periods, I can clearly see that shift in mindset, attitude, and identity that has occurred under Klopp. The talent might not always have been there but the belief always has been.

It’s an understanding that it’s not about any one individual like a Philippe Coutinho or a Luis Suarez but that it’s about the team. There’s no logical way we should’ve beat Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal without Salah and Firmino, two of our best players but we did. No matter who comes in, the identity of the team means that they will perform when the occasion demands it.

TO: And on a lighter note to wrap things up, who was the toughest teammate you had to face in training? Who was the most skilled? How about the most underrated?

Steve McManaman was quite tough to face in training. My favorite players to play with were Peter Beardsley and Ian Rush. Beardsley was the most unselfish player. He’d rather set someone up to score than score himself and was a real team player. We all know Ian Rush was a great goal scorer, but for me what was really special was the work rate he put in off the ball and how hard he worked for the team when we weren’t in possession.

Ronnie Whelan was by far the must underrated! He wasn’t particularly eye-catching or the most skilled but he was so intelligent, so hard-working and could play in any position from left side, midfield, full back, center back, up front…We had eye-catching fast players who were skillful but every team needs a player like Ronnie Whelan.

We’d like to thank John Barnes again for taking the time to talk with us, and remind fans in the United States that tickets for the club’s Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Notre Dame Stadium matches are still available and can be purchased from the club.

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