DUNLAVY: Barnes has found his true home
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.