Barnes on loan moves, the Euros and scoring as many as his dad
EXCLUSIVE: Lower league loans saw Harvey Barnes learn old school tricks that have helped him become a star at top four chasing Leicester, and England have one eye on him for Euro 2020… but he insists: ‘If I get as many goals as my dad I’ll be happy!’
- Leicester’s Harvey Barnes is having an impressive season in the Premier League
- The winger has scored 12 goals and made three assists in all competitions
- His father Paul Barnes was a prolific goalscorer during a 19-year career
- The 23-year-old is targeting a place in England’s Euros squad this summer
Paul Barnes was a prolific goalscorer. Even if he never made it to the top flight, he was a fine forward with a well-honed striker’s instinct. He scored 206 times in a 19-year career, including five in one match for Burnley against Stockport County in 1996. There were two headers, two with his right foot and one with his left foot that he drilled into the roof of the net.
He still manages to make the memory of it self-deprecating. ‘I’d just arrived at Burnley as their record signing and gone eight games without a goal,’ he says. ‘So the lads in the dressing room were giving me some right abuse and saying: “I thought you were supposed to get one in two”. So I scored five against Stockport and I was able to say: “I told you — that’s five in nine”. It was a big relief.’
Paul’s son, Harvey, is listening. He is wearing a smile that says he may have heard the story before. Leicester City’s man of the moment was seven when his dad retired but that has not stopped him being educated in the old man’s career. ‘I didn’t get to that many games while he was still playing,’ Harvey says, ‘but he’s shown me more than enough clips, don’t worry about that.’
Harvey Barnes is having an impressive season at Leicester with 12 goals in all competitions
Harvey’s father Paul Barnes (pictured playing for York City left) was a prolific goalscorer
Harvey is a creator of goals as well as a scorer. It was he, for instance, who pounced on a slip by Mamadou Sakho in Leicester’s game against Crystal Palace last season and sacrificed the chance to try to score himself by squaring the ball for team-mate Jamie Vardy to tap into an empty net for his 100th Premier League goal.
But when Harvey, whose 12 goals for Leicester this season have helped propel the club into the title race, brought him his first cap for England and encouraged many pundits to advocate that he should be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the European Championship, talks about the goal he scored against Liverpool last Saturday, his dad points out a change that has come over him.
Leicester were 2-1 up against the champions late in the game when Wilfred Ndidi slid the ball through to Barnes midway inside the Liverpool half. ‘A few minutes before that, we had changed the formation a bit,’ says Harvey, ‘so I was a bit higher up the pitch. When the ball broke, there was a lot of space in behind and, as an attacker, you want to receive the ball as high up the pitch as you can.
‘It was a good ball and then my first touch was good because it gave me the options to go straight for goal or another route. It gave me a few yards to get away from the defender. Even though I was on the left, for me as a right-footed player, if I can work the ball on to my right foot to open up the goal, it makes the finish a lot easier.
Barnes’ father has been able to pass on his wisdom following a 19-year career in the game
‘If you go with your left foot there, of course you can still score but if you can open up your right foot, you can either go to the far post, as I did, or if he reads that you can still go to the near post. I knew it was Alisson in goal but I’ll always be confident in situations like that. If you’re confident and you pick your spot, it doesn’t matter who’s in goal.’ His dad noticed something else, though. He had seen that, when his son was advancing on goal, Vardy was streaking through the middle. ‘When I spoke to Harv yesterday,’ says Paul, ‘I asked him whether he was tempted to square it to Vards and he just said: “I didn’t see him”.
‘When I heard that reply, I thought: “That’s good”. Because 12 months ago, he would have probably passed it. Or he would have been looking for Vards. Harv’s an unselfish player but he’s had 12 months of feeling part of the team and, when goals start going in for you, you get that bit of tunnel vision where you probably don’t look to the side of you because you know what you want to do.’
Harvey recognises the accuracy of that analysis. ‘When the chances have come along this season, I have been clinical,’ he says. ‘I have scored different types of goals. When I scored against Manchester United, I was quite a long way out and the ball was on my left foot and maybe last year I wouldn’t have taken that shot on. I would have looked for a different option. That’s confidence. When you’re an attacker, as my dad knows, a lot of your game is based on confidence.’
Barnes’ route to the top was different from that of, say, Marcus Rashford or Callum Hudson-Odoi, who came through the youth systems at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively and went straight into the first team. That did not happen for Barnes at Leicester. He came up the hard way, via loan spells at MK Dons, Barnsley and West Brom.
The youngster’s goals and assists have helped propel the Foxes into the title race this season
‘Learning a few different things and habits helped me in the way I play now,’ says Harvey. ‘There are different sorts of wingers. There are tricky ones, wingers who love loads of skill and it’s not that I can’t do that but I think I am more of an old fashioned winger, very direct. I don’t know if that’s come from my upbringing in the lower leagues but I think it helped.’
Barnes played in the lower leagues, just as his dad had done, and he thrived. Every time he was set a challenge, he met it and he excelled. His dad, 53, says he encouraged his son to embrace the loan spells, not just be a player passing through.
And Harvey learned some lessons from the old school when he played in the lower leagues. He remembers one, in particular. When he was at Barnsley and they played Leeds in the Championship, Barnes came up against Luke Ayling, who went through the repertoire of tricks of the trade, standing on Barnes’ toes, pinching him, pulling at him. Barnes bit back, there was a confrontation and both men were booked early on.
‘I was taken off at half-time,’ says Barnes, ‘because the manager was worried I was going to get sent off. That was the thing I was most disappointed with. It wasn’t that I had been booked or there had been a confrontation, it was that I had missed out on the second half.
‘That was a bit of a learning curve. It made me realise you can’t go and get booked early doors. You can’t react. I wasn’t even booked for a tackle. It was a confrontation. I realised I couldn’t get booked for that, I couldn’t get involved in that because it has repercussions.
‘And it did toughen me up a bit. I don’t think you get that side of it in academy football. It’s something you only get when you go into senior football. With VAR, you can’t get away with a lot of that but it’s going on all the time in the Championship and League One.
The winger said he now has the confidence to take shots on rather than always looking to pass
‘There are probably experienced pros who, coming up against a kid, will think that if they can rough him up a bit then they’ll get the better of him. I enjoy that side of it now. When someone is doing that and I face that challenge, it gives me an extra few per cent and I think “I’m in for a good battle here” and it pushes me on a bit.’
Barnes, 23, returned to Leicester in January 2019 and this time the club did not send him out on loan again. His return coincided with the appointment of Brendan Rodgers as manager and his importance to the team has grown in the past two years. There was a time when, if Southgate turned up to watch Leicester matches at the King Power Stadium or on the road, it was obvious he had come to watch James Maddison or James Justin. Now it is equally obvious that he will be watching Barnes, too. He appears to be timing his run for the Euros with the same instincts that served him so well for that third goal against Liverpool.
‘The confidence I’m playing with now comes with time,’ Barnes says. ‘If you go into any job, when you first step in, it’s going to feel different to if you have been there for a year. You gradually start to feel a lot more comfortable around everyone and it’s the same with football.
‘Going on loan and slowly moving up through the leagues, you feel more confident that when you do get your chance to play in the Premier League, you’ll be able to do a good job. I feel I’ve kept building on what I’ve done before. I have always had a belief that if I got my chance, I could take it. It’s not easy. You realise when you are in the Premier League that you are never going to come up against an easy opponent. Every game is going to bring a big, big challenge and you have to find different ways to unlock that.
‘If I had to pick my most difficult opponent so far, I’d say Kyle Walker at Manchester City. He is so quick and strong. When you think you are away or you have space, it can go in a millisecond.’
Barnes said his loan spells in the Championship and League One helped to ‘toughen him up’
Barnes played in Leicester’s away draw with Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday night but he knows that Sunday’s Premier League clash against Aston Villa at Villa Park could be a big step in the club’s attempt to avoid the disappointment that assailed them last season, when they fell out of the Champions League spots in the last game of the campaign.
Leicester are third going into the game at Villa, level on points with Manchester United and Barnes is aware that if he maintains his current form, England selection will look after itself. ‘I’d love to be involved in the Euros,’ he says. ‘But I have to realise there is a long way of this season to go so it can’t be at the front of my head at the moment. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about being involved and that I didn’t have the ambition to be in the squad. You want to keep challenging yourself. That’s what I’ve done so far in my career.
‘I’ve loved working under Brendan. The way we set up, you know we are going to create a lot of chances in games and, as an attacker, that’s the dream. You go out there and you know you have got the full confidence of the manager to go out there and express myself.
‘He has always been the first one to point things out to me and look at different ways to score more goals. That was something I had in my locker but together we realised I needed to score more and we looked at different ways to do that.
‘We’re in a great position in the league. We want to build on what we did last season. We finished on a disappointing note and I would like to think we have learned from the mistakes we made last year. If we do end up falling out of it, it will be down to ourselves, it won’t be down to anyone else.’
The 23-year-old says he would love to be involved in England’s Euros squad this summer
His dad smiles again as he listens to his son talking. Is there any envy of what his boy has achieved, the heights he has scaled? ‘There’s only pride,’ says Paul. ‘If Harv had been playing in League Two, it would have been the same. It’s the same with my daughter, who is a structural engineer.
‘The nicest thing is that I see Harv go training with a smile on his face every day. He has got a real love of football, which is great to see. If he gets kicked, he is not one who is going to roll over and over. He’ll get up and go away and want the ball again. It’s a big pat on the back for the work he has put in and the way he deals with everything. So the pride I have is for what he has achieved on the pitch and off it too.’
It is a nice compliment and Harvey returns it: ‘Listen,’ he says, ‘if I get as many goals in my career as he did, I’ll be very happy.’
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