John Barnes cost Liverpool just £900,000 when he signed from Watford in 1987 and stayed with the Merseyside team for 10 years, scoring 84 goals in 314 games.
The truth is, he could have been a Manchester United hero instead of an idol of Anfield as then Watford manager Dave Bassett offered the Jamaican-born England winger to Sir Alex Ferguson just a year after the Scot had travelled south of the border to Old Trafford.
The one true problem with not signing Barnes is that United soldiered on with Jesper Olsen, whom Sir Alex seemed to have a soft spot for and stayed with the club until November 1988. In came players like Lee Sharpe and Danny Wallace but it wasn’t until the emergence of Ryan Giggs when United finally had a left winger capable of playing for many years like Barnes could have.
But what of Barnes? In the decade he spent at Anfield he won the league title twice, the FA Cup twice, the League Cup once and the Community Shield (then known as the Charity Shield) three times, and also played for England 79 times, scoring 11 goals during his career.
After leaving Liverpool, Barnes’ career stalled and he made just 39 appearances for Newcastle United and then Charlton Athletic in three seasons before retiring as a player in 1999.
It goes without saying that Barnes was a better player than Jesper Olsen and Danny Wallace but Lee Sharpe once had the potential to be a very good player for United but injuries and illness both kept his name off the team sheet for awhile, and by the time he was fully fit again United had Andrei Kanchelskis on the right wing and Ryan Giggs on the left.
John Barnes went into management after his playing days were over but that proved fruitless as spells with Celtic, the Jamaican national team and Tranmere Rovers all ended without much success, albeit winning the 2008 Caribbean Cup with Jamaica.
The only question left is this: Would Barnes have cut it at Old Trafford? The only answer I can give is that I’m not sure.
If he had signed with United I could see him being sold a few years down the line to make way for the legend that is Ryan Giggs. So in one sense he would have made it, but in another, it probably wouldn’t have been for long, and we may never have seen the likes of the ‘Sharpie Shuffle’ or Barry Davies’ immortal line of “Test of his pace, now a test of his finish… and he’s equal to both” when Danny Wallace scored in the 2nd minute of extra time in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final against Oldham Athletic.
So with those words, I’ll learn towards not having John Barnes at United, but, of course, time may have told a different story.