Former Premier League, England youth, Jamaican international, and MLS star. We catch up with Giles Barnes to discuss a career full of drama!
Giles let’s start with the early days, where did your love for football come from?
You know, my uncle played for West Ham, my dad played youth level and reserve team football for QPR, Millwall and Leyton Orient. So it was something that was just always there, I ended up playing once or twice and ended up actually liking it and just kind of ran with it and the age of 8 I was signed by Chelsea to play in their academy.
After spending 5 years in Major League Soccer, is it your perfect fit?
Yeah I have enjoyed it, honestly, I came over here to get away from the stigma of being a wonder-boy that got injured. It was a difficult time for me in England with having so much success as a young kid and then being out for two years, being told that I should retire and that kind of stuff because of the state my knee was in. I just felt that I needed to go away and find that love for the game again, which had been taken away from me because of the amount of heartbreak I’d had. So when I came over here it was a blessing in disguise.
It’s fair to say then that moving abroad for you was part of your healing time and dealing with the injuries you’d suffered?
Yeah for sure, from being a seventeen-year-old boy with the world at my feet, to being twenty-one and clubs offering me a pay as you play deal because they are saying that I can’t stay fit. It hurt me deep down, it did, I had given so much to the game, tried so hard to come back from injury. I actually had offers from other countries, I could have gone to Italy, I could have gone to Greece, and then decided once I had got the final call, to try the MLS. I was unknown so no one really had anything to judge me by and my injury history, they just knew that I was a footballer coming over from abroad. So it was a fresh start, it was like a new life. It’s been fantastic.
You’ve already mentioned how you burst onto the scene as a teenager, how much pressure did you feel under at the time, playing for Derby in the Premier League and England youth teams?
No when you are a kid you just play. The pressure for me was when I made the comeback and I knew that I wasn’t right, I knew there were certain things that were missing in my game at that point, like the power in my knee and the pain that I was playing with but I was trying to convince myself that there was no pain in there. To come back from that and then to rupture my achilles twice, those were the hard bits, coming back and trying to deal with everyone thinking that I was going to go back to how it was overnight. It doesn’t happen like that, it takes time, it’s a bedding in period and I had to re-teach myself how to walk basically. I even had to change my running style to take pressure off different areas of my body, so that was the pressure that I dealt with.
People often say that the Premier League is the best league in the world, you’re in a great position to judge, do you agree?
Yeah, for me to live out that dream and be able to play in the Premier League, was incredible. I was lucky enough to do it twice with two different clubs. For me, it hasn’t changed, it’s still the best league and it’s the pinnacle of the sport. It’s where everyone wants to be. If you don’t have an aspiration to play in that league then you are lying to yourself.
On reflection, do you think you were a fine example of the English media over-pressuring a young talent and burdening you with a big future, rather than just letting you play?
Honestly, I never used to read that kind of stuff, media wise you know. I said I felt the pressure of coming back and that burden from myself, knowing that it was going to take you a while. The media wasn’t actually too bad for me. But I do feel, that for someone like Jack Wilshere, who has had a lot of injury problems, sometimes you’ve just got to allow the kids to grow. I think Marcus Rashford is doing an incredible job of just playing football, nothing else, you never hear anything bad about him. He’s just going out there and playing football, Harry Kane was the same. They’ve done great jobs and their clubs have done great jobs on keeping them under the radar, media wise.
Would you ever return to England if the offer was right?
I’ve had the chance a couple of times, to come back actually. One most recently was last year and I chose to turn that opportunity down at a Championship club. You never know, anything can happen in football.
Giles, let’s chat about national level, I know it means a lot to you. You left the England set up and chose to represent Jamaica instead, what drove that decision?
Playing for England as a kid, this is going to sound really weird, but for me it was just a stage of recognition, to be put in the elite group and I think we were ranked number one in the world as well. So you wanted to be part of the set up, but when I put my shirt on for Jamaica, sung the national anthem and saw my family there, it was a completely different feeling to anything I’d had playing for England. So I knew then that I’d made the right decision, I came from a Caribbean household so I was raised that way. I guess that’s why it always meant more to me.
What stand out moments do you look back on, from playing with the Reggae Boyz?
My debut. My debut was incredible, my mum and dad got to come across to Jamaica to the national stadium. I scored a goal and we won, everything just went perfectly. Then the 2015 Gold Cup was incredible for me and for the nation as well, it kind of put us back on that pedestal, that Jamaica do have good players and we showed what we were capable of.
How much does your faith in God play a part in your life and out on the pitch?
Yeah, if I hadn’t had my faith I wouldn’t be playing football right now. That’s as clear as it comes. There were many nights where I had to pray and pray hard about what I should do and decisions I should make. When you’ve got doctors and physios telling you should retire, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. So it took a lot of prayer and belief. To walk by faith and not by sight is something that I live by so it’s played a massive part, especially in those times when I was really down and I was lucky enough to have a great mentor in Darren Moore who was with me at Derby County. Linvoy Primus as well, I’ve got to take my hat off to them, they helped me a lot in really really dark times and they showed me the way.
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) October 21, 2017
As players go, you’ve had your fair share of injuries, do things like that really test your faith?
Yeah for sure, you ask why. I remember Arsenal put in a bid for me, I’m an Arsenal fan and it’s a few weeks later that I actually hurt my knee, so everything that you’ve built yourself up for as a kid and the dream of being able to play for the club that you love and then it’s taken away from you. It was the same when I got into the Premier League, I broke my ankle just before I got into the Premier League so I had to wait again to make my debut. When you’ve dedicated your life to something and then it’s snatched away, it does get questioned but you’ve got to stay strong in those times and realise that it is God’s plan. It will happen for you eventually, it will always work out how God had it for you, so those are the things that you have to learn and be strong with.
And in your everyday life, what difference has it made?
General choices that you make, lifestyle decisions and the way that you approach certain things. Everyone gets nervous at certain times, everyone gets anxious and angry but I feel that if you can talk to God and speak out loud to him, it can relieve so many of your anxieties about the situation that you are in. Allow him to take all of your burdens, for me that’s the best remedy.