John Barnes: South Africa is like Jamaica, there's nothing to fear
JOHN BARNES is ready to star throughout the World Cup at the age of 46 – by re-recording his 1990 World Cup rap “The World In Motion” for England sponsors Mars.
But more importantly, on the day South Africans were scuffling for tickets in the latest release from FIFA, he believes: “There will be no problems. I’ve been over a dozen times and there is nothing to scare anybody in Africa.”
Barnes (pictured above performing the original version of the song, which went to No1) laughs off his role as a resurrected rapper, preferring to concentrate on the festival of football to come. He told me: “South Africa? I’ve been many times. Three times last year, twice this year. I do television work, soccer exhibitions, and I’m going out for the 2018 bid team in mid-May.
“Will there be trouble? I don’t think it’s an issue at all. Look, I’m from Jamaica - a beautiful country. But it has a bad reputation. People say you’re going to get killed, everyohne smokes marijuana all the time. They say don’t go it’s dangerous to go on holiday to Jamaica, like South Africa. But it can happen anywhere.
“People have preconceptions of places, but in South Africa, they love football. British fans can walk around without fear. They’ll only get in trouble if they’re stupid.
“Sadly, people have a certain agenda. They want to knock the first World Cup in Africa. But when you go over, people come up and talk to you. I’ve been there a dozen times.
“I was over in Mandela Square in Sandton last November, playing five-a-side in the middle of the mall against Brazil and Germany. I ruptured my quad tendon just above the knee, so my football days are over for now!”
He vividly recalls his first visit, just after democracy dawned and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994. He remembers: “I was still playing for Liverpool – we played against Cape Town Spurs, Kaizer Chiefs and Aston Villa.
“And I did a documentary too. I interviewed FW De Klerk and Mandela. They took me to Soweto. Coming from Jamaica, there are great similarities. It’s perfectly safe, but obviously there are some areas you wouldn’t go.
“Politically the country has evolved, but you can’t expect overnight change. There is still poverty and crime. They still have their problems. Things aren’t suddenly going to get better. But I don’t see there’s a problem for England fans travelling to the World Cup.”
Barnes, a veteran of 79 England caps and over 300 games for Liverpool, will be there for the duration. He’ll be commentating for Supersport, South Africa’s answer to Sky Sports, with famous old faces like Southampton’s Terry Paine and former Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey.
He grins: “I’m not going to make many matches – I’ll be in the studio most of the time. But I am convinced Africa’s first World Cup will be a success.
“Look, it might not be as efficient as Japan or as organised as Germany. But it will be a resounding success. I would argue it will be the most colourful World Cup ever. Full of passion and excitement.” He grins: “I’m not going to make many matches – I’ll be in the studio most of the time. But I am convinced Africa’s first World Cup will be a success.
“Look, it might not be as efficient as Japan or as organised as Germany. But it will be a resounding success. I would argue it will be the most colourful World Cup ever. Full of passion and excitement.”
And England’s chances? “As good as they’ve been at the last two World Cups. We’re in the top six in the world, so we should be expected to get to the latter stages. And we will, we are well-organised under Fabio Capello.
“But we have to be realistic. Spain and Brazil can beat us, probably will beat us. But if we play consistently well, we might catch them on a bad day.
“To EXPECT us to win the World Cup is unrealistic, but we CAN win it."
On the great Lionel Messi v Wayne Rooney debate, Barnes argues: "At the moment, Messi’s the most exciting player in the world, two months ago it was Rooney. Who will it be in May?
"The difference between the countries is we focus too much on individuals. Argentina recognise Messi is very important, just as Fernando Torres is for Spain or Kaka for Brazil. But they have other players too.
"In England, we place far too much importance on individuals - so it's all doom and gloom if we have an injury to Rooney. The good thing about England is we have alternatives.
"Look at Bobby Zamora for instance. He's playing so well, but he has to get in ahead of Peter Crouch, Carlton Cole, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey... and Darren Bent's scoring for Sunderland. You can't take them all.
"It's the same out wide. You've got so many players you have to force your way in. We’ve got a lot of options."
So England CAN win it. But who will win it Barnesie? One word. "Brazil."