DUNLAVY: Barnes has found his true home

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Chris Dunlavy

TWO years ago, Liam Brid­cutt wasn’t just the best player at Brighton. He was the best player in the Cham­pi­onship. There were faster, stronger, more skil­ful play­ers. But if you wanted some­one to run a game from the mid­dle of the park, no­body came close.

I watched him hand ex­pe­ri­enced Pre­mier League play­ers a les­son in com­po­sure and dis­ci­pline as New­cas­tle were twice dumped out of the FA Cup. I saw him hold his own against Ar­se­nal’s twin­kle-toed mae­stros. I was con­vinced his £2.5m move to Sun­der­land would even­tu­ally lead to an Eng­land cap.


Yet there he was last Satur­day; booed by his own fans, in­ca­pable of con­trol­ling sim­ple passes, drift­ing list­lessly around the cen­tre cir­cle as Sun­der­land were de­mol­ished 4-0 at home by As­ton Villa.

Mean­while, 75 miles south­west, Ash­ley Barnes was once again prov­ing just how in­dis­pens­able his all-ac­tion for­ward play has be­come to Burn­ley as the Clarets beat Manch­ester City.

Barnes was also at Brighton two years ago. But while Brid­cutt was win­ning player of the year awards, the 25-year-old was sit­ting on his back­side, rarely trusted ahead of men like Craig Mack­ail-Smith and Leo Ul­loa. Though a fre­quent scorer, few

TOM Ince is sure to take some back on the Eng-stick for turn­ing his loan Derby winger –on land Un­der-21s. The manager Gareth South­gate from Hull – has told friendlies want to play in up­com­ing that he does not nor in this and the Czech Repub­lic, against Ger­many Cham­pi­onships. as sum­mer’s Euro­pean be­ing lauded to judge­ment. Since But let’s not leap has made one duff three years ago, Ince loan at the next big thing at the KC, nor on fail­ing to sparkle move af­ter an­other, For­est. old Crys­tal Palace or was his to Derby in Fe­bru­ary Only when he moved goals in eight rekin­dled, with six fleet-footed bril­liance of hard-work­ing per­for­mances. games and a string of van­ish­ing ca­reer was in dan­ger Un­til then, Ince’s re­main about his Even now, ques­tions down the tubes. an­other At 23, he can ill af­ford abil­ity and at­ti­tude. will help is snub­bing Eng­land mis-step. Whether want­can’t blame him for de­bat­able but you of ef­fort into ing to put ev­ery ounce right. get­ting his next move

who watched Barnes ever saw any­thing more than a Cham­pi­onship blun­der­buss, a big lad and will­ing run­ner who lacked the speed or tech­nique to play any higher. Yet there he was on Satur­day; over­pow­er­ing Vin­cent Kom­pany, mak­ing space, win­ning head­ers, the per­fect foil for Danny Ings.


The les­son is not that Brid­cutt was worse than we thought, nor that Barnes is bet­ter. It is that play­ers are only as good as the side they play in. Tal­ent is ir­rel­e­vant – it’s who you play for and how you are used that counts.

With­out cen­tre-halves pre­pared to play from the back and team­mates mak­ing for­ward runs, Brid­cutt is like a golfer shorn of his irons. Sun­der­land pro­vide nei­ther.

Barnes, mean­while, plays for a side who a) pos­sess lim­it­less self­be­lief and b) play di­rect, counter-at­tack­ing foot­ball, per­fect for a mus­cu­lar pivot who doesn’t mind tak­ing a kick. Brighton had no use for that type of player. For Burn­ley, it is the glue that holds them to­gether.

Were Brid­cutt parachuted into, say, Swansea’s mid­field, I have no doubt he would thrive. And if Barnes im­prob­a­bly signed for Ar­se­nal, he’d look like a mon­grel at Crufts. But if ev­ery dog has his day then ev­ery player has his club. That is the real les­son, both for us am­a­teur tal­ent spot­ters and ev­ery player rot­ting on a lower league bench.

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