John Barnes

Legendary: Heskey On 'Idol' John Barnes

As a youngster coming through the ranks at Leicester City, Emile Heskey idolised the magnificent talent of Liverpool and England winger John Barnes.
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Signing for Graham Taylor's Watford at the age of 17, Barnes would soon become one of England's brightest young talents in the early 1980s, racking up almost a triple century of appearances for the Hornets and scoring 85 goals.

He helped the club seal promotion to the top flight in 1982 before picking up an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1984, losing out to Everton, a year after making his debut for the senior national team.

Sealing a move to Liverpool in 1987, who paid £900,000 for his services, he would enjoy a decade-long spell with the Merseyside club, winning a host of trophies and individual accolades.

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John Barnes
John Barnes

John Barnes made his name at Watford under Graham Taylor, helping the club rise to the First Division.

Liverpool were two-time First Division champions, in 1987/88 and 1989/90, and twice won the FA Cup (in 1989 and 1992) that had eluded Barnes earlier in his career.

During 403 competitive matches, he reached a century of goals for the Reds, also adding the League Cup to his trophy cabinet in 1995, after winning the Charity Shield three years running. 

He was the PFA Players' Player of the Year and the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year during his first season with the club, an accolade he would also claim in 1990, as well as being named in the PFA First Division Team of the Year three times.

That successful first Liverpool campaign coincided with Heskey, at the age of nine, joining Leicester City's Academy. He was in awe of what Barnes was able to do with the ball at his feet.

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John Barnes
John Barnes

His first season at Liverpool included picking up two individual awards.

"They've got some wonderful players in that Liverpool squad at this moment in time, but growing up, my idol was John Barnes," Heskey revealed to LCFC.com.

"I remember when I was on the playground kicking a ball around with my left foot pretending to be him because he was obviously left footed.

"And it worked because it helped me get better! But I idolised him, it was the way that he moved, the way he could just glide past players.

"You always want to do that as a kid, you always want to be the one doing that because it looks attractive, to take people on and score goals. It looked good and he was that player for me."

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John Barnes
John Barnes

Barnes left Merseyside in 1997 to join Newcastle United.

While Barnes continued his later career at Newcastle United and Charlton Athletic before retiring in 1999, Heskey was attracting the attentions of Liverpool, who paid £11M to take him to Anfield, making the then 22-year-old their record transfer in March 2000.

Although the pair never got to play on the same team, with Heskey's England debut also coming four years after Barnes' international retirement, they did still share the same pitch, on opposing sides.

"I never got to meet him before I became a footballer to be honest with you," Heskey continued. "Then I obviously became a footballer at Leicester and I think he was still at Liverpool, and then he went to Newcastle.

"When I played against him I was a little bit in awe, looking at him while I was playing, because he was a proper megastar when I was growing up. He was one of the major standout players and they had plenty in that Liverpool side.

"At the end of the day you need players that are going to be real game changers. At that time they were winning everything as well, which was phenomenal for them."

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John Barnes
John Barnes

The winger played a key role in Liverpool's successful, trophy-laden era in the late 1980s.

Looking back on a halcyon period for English football and particularly attacking players, it makes Barnes' achievements, including 11 international goals, all the more impressive, according to Heskey.

"You had Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley, players like that, so we did have a lot of attacking talent," the former Foxes forward added. "We generally have always had that, if you look over the years.

"Now we have Harry Kane and Vards [Jamie Vardy] in the hat for being very prolific and potent strikers, but yes, back then it was definitely up there."

Jamaica-born Barnes moved to London with his family when he was 12 and at the time of his final England appearance, in 1995, he had won more caps than any other black player (79).

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John Barnes
John Barnes

Barnes was part of the England side that reached the semi-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

Reflecting on the tough situations that Barnes faced during his time as a player, Heskey explained how he became a beacon of hope and aspiration for young black players coming through at the time.

Heskey said: "The thing is, when you look at what he was having to endure, it's pretty similar to what everyone in the streets was having to endure.

"But the fact that he could rise above it and still be who he wanted to be and still achieve what he wanted to achieve.

"I think that was testament to him and helped young players overcome those battles that they felt were there."

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