ASH WEDNESDAY: Ignore Barnes' bluster, time for proof he's up to it
As much as English football welcomed John Barnes back into club management with Tranmere Rovers on Monday, some of his comments have already shaken football supporters from their traditional summer slumber. Barnes, the former PFA player of the year at Liverpool and one of the finest wingers in the world when he was in his prime at Anfield, claimed he, along with others, are still being overlooked for managerial vacancies because they are black. 'I wouldn't go so far as to say it is racist, but there is a stereotypical view that some people have of black people and black managers in terms of competence,' claimed the former England international. So name names then, John. Get it all out in the open. Or perhaps, as is most likely, he is still bitter about being fired by then Celtic chief executive Allan MacDonald in February 2000, just days after a humiliating 3-1 Scottish Cup defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. At the time, MacDonald made it perfectly clear that Barnes had lost the confidence and the backing of the Celtic dressing room to such an extent that the club had little choice but to turn to technical director Kenny Dalglish. If anything, people were in the sport had been fully supportive of Barnes' appointment at Parkhead, hoping that one of the game's great players could transfer his beguiling talents into management. It had nothing to do with the colour of his skin that his seven month spell in Scotland got off to a pretty poor start, telling Celtic's army of supporters when he was appointed that he was in Glasgow to 'cut his managerial teeth'. Of course Barnes felt hard done by when he as dismissed, in the same way as any manager who has been called into the chairman's office to be told that they are no longer required believe they have not been given enough time. Barnes' beef is that he has been overlooked for jobs in England since the Celtic experience, passed over in favour of someone who fits a stereotype that he appears to be creating all for himself. Halfway through his nine-year absence from domestic management, he gave an interview to the BBC where he perpetuated the modern-day myth that black people are patronised by chairmen and chief executives. According to Barnes, the stereotype of a black man is that he is 'a good athlete, therefore he should be able to run fast, sprint, play rugby, play football, we are athletic, but can we think? That is the hardest barrier to overcome'. It has taken Barnes nine years to earn another chance at club level, finally persuading the board at Prenton Park to take him on after an impressive spell as an international manager. Barnes used Jamaica as a stepping stone, finishing first in the 2008 Caribbean Championships to qualify for the CONCACAF Cup, but his comments have already placed an unnecessary pressure on his return to England with Tranmere. Paul Ince, his successor as captain of Liverpool, trod a familiar path, hinting at racism in the game by claiming that people wanted him out of a job when he was at Blackburn. The truth is that Ince made a complete hash of it at Ewood Park, jumping from MK Dons too soon and failing to make a fist of it when he became the first black, English manager in the Barclays Premier League. Much was made of it at the time, heralding a new future for black coaches, but his experience at Ewood Park should not put anyone off a career in management. It would be an easy excuse for an aspiring black coach to use Ince's failure at Blackburn, or Barnes' at Celtic, to prevent them taking the path to the Premier League. Instead it can be used as a motivational tool to prove Ince and Barnes that they got it wrong. They can succeed, irrespective of their colour. They just have to be good enough.
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