Liverpool legend John Barnes warns club over potential China investment – and says Alex Teixeira’s Anfield snub was a blessing
Former great says Reds could risk losing some of their unique heritage – and that Brazilian’s decision to go for Chinese Super League cash shows he lacks character
Liverpool legend John Barnes has warned the club risks losing some of its unique character and heritage by courting investors who may be more interested in their commercial value rather than maintaining tradition.
He also said the Reds dodged a bullet after Brazilian forward Alex Teixeira snubbed Anfield for a big-money move to the Chinese Super League.
Reports in February said Liverpool were close to sealing major investment from Asia, with the naming rights for Anfield’s new main stand up for grabs for around £90 million (HK$1 billion). Offers from Chinese investors to buy a minority stake in one of world football’s most storied clubs were also reportedly being considered.
Former Reds hero Barnes understands the necessity for the club to maximise earnings wherever they can, but admitted he wasn’t a fan.
Although Liverpool are owned by the Fenway Group, the Americans have largely kept a hands-off approach and the Kop stand at their Anfield ground remains an iconic symbol of the Merseysiders’ heritage.
“English football has become very unfair,” he said. “In Germany not everyone can own a football club. In the the EPL, everyone’s buying clubs because they see an opportunity to make money.
“From a financial point of view I can understand why clubs look for investments to help them.
“[But] from the point of view of integrity of football and from Bill Shankly’s philosophy, who was fairly socialist – I’m talking about the relationship with the fans, having local players – that’s for me where Germany have got it right. They try to create something rather than just buy players every six months.
“Unfortunately for me in England I think we’ve gone too far the other way, where you haven’t got a choice but spending to try to compete, so if it means going to China – people may say to ‘sell out’ to get money in – I’m not a fan of it, but that’s what you have to do to compete.”
Liverpool’s American owners Fenway Sports Group angered fans this year by announcing ticket price hikes, swiftly abandoning the plan after vehement protests. Barnes admits it’s a difficult balance in trying to keep the team competitive without alienating supporters and while staying true to its traditions.
“That is English football,” he added. “I think Liverpool are probably the last bastions of that in terms of trying to retain a semblance of an identity but it’s not just Liverpool, it’s English football.
“Do we want Liverpool to hold on to those traditions and fall behind?
“I understand the fans. A lot of them will be for it [China investment] because they want their club to do well – but the balance is important.
“The fans are saying we want you to spend money but we don’t want to put the ticket prices up, so getting the balance is right.”
Liverpool got a taste of the impact China’s cash can have when they missed out on a winter transfer move for Brazil forward Teixeira.
The Shakhtar Donetsk player had looked set to leave Ukraine for either Liverpool or Juventus before Jiangsu Suning blew them out of the water with a €50 million (HK$436.6 million) offer that stunned world football.
Barnes said Liverpool should count themselves lucky to have missed out, as the 26-year-old’s decision to go for the money rather than test himself at one of Europe’s top clubs suggested a fatal lack of ambition.
“I think you can see the character of him,” said the 51-year-old, in Hong Kong for a coaching clinic with local children set up by club sponsor Standard Chartered.
“Had he gone to Liverpool, if the China situation hadn’t been on the table, he still would have been the same character – if he came and wasn’t playing well or it was a bit cold, he would have just thrown the towel in.
“I use [former Reds defender] Daniel Agger as an example. I like him, but if you’re going to leave Liverpool and you’ve got to chance to go to Barcelona – to go to Brondby instead [as he did] to me shows you haven’t got the heart and desire to be a top-quality footballer. You’re a great player, but do you have that heart desire and determination?
“[Manager] Juergen Klopp wants those players: who want to play for the club whether they’re bottom, mid-table or whatever.”
Barnes said the flood of high-profile players into the Chinese Super League at the peak of their careers raised “questions [about] those players integrity”.
“Rather than thinking ‘They’re going to China at 25 at the peak of their career, [the league must be good]’, you’re thinking ‘They’re not interested in football, they’re only going for the money,’” he said.
Barnes pointed to Asamoah Gyan as an example. The Ghanaian left Sunderland at 25 for a massive-money move to Qatar, and is now reportedly one of the best-paid players in the world at Shanghai SIPG, earning a supposed £227,000 (HK$2.49 million) a week.
“I understand if you’re earning £10,000 a week and you go to China for £100,000, but if it’s between £100,000 in England and £150,000 in Qatar – just for that extra, that’s why I question their integrity,” added Barnes.
“Teixiera is a typical example because for him to one moment be going to Liverpool or Juventus, or stay at Shakhtar and maybe leave the next year for cheaper, to all of a sudden say I’m going to China, it’s questionable.”