Frustrating, an enigma, unfulfilled talent. The England career of John Barnes seems destined to be dogged by such words, but that is hardly fair on a player who collected 79 caps and nearly outshone Diego Maradona.
Barnes first caught the eye with a wonderful solo goal against Brazil in Rio in 1984, but it was against Argentina in the World Cup two years later that Barnes made his most telling contribution to the national cause.
This was the “hand of God” quarter-final and England were 2-0 down to two Maradona goals – the first dubious, the second sublime – when Bobby Robson brought Barnes off the bench with 15 minutes to play.
His impact was immediate. The Argentine defence had no answer to his pace and skill, and Barnes created two great chances for Gary Lineker in that short spell.
Sadly for England, Lineker could only convert one of them. Somehow, while his domestic career flourished at Liverpool, Barnes never again had so much fun in an England shirt – but 79 caps remains a record for a black player.
It’s possible that doing so well so early in his international career created unrealistic expectations. Former Anfield team-mate Alan Hansen has described Barnes as “arguably the greatest black English footballer of all time.”
That’s not unfulfilled talent by any means.