John Barnes: West Ham will stay up

Hasn't been a great season so far, has it? Being a West Ham fan can be immensely emotionally rewarding, but most of the time it's not.

Hasn’t been a great season so far, has it? Being a West Ham fan can be immensely emotionally rewarding, but most of the time it’s not. As such, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in one’s own claret and blue fading-anddying bubble of misery. But how do we look from the outside? Does this season look the catastrophe to everyone else that it does to us?

I caught up with former Liverpool and England midfielder John Barnes at Football FanCast’s Capital One Cup party in Bar Kick, Shoreditch, to find out. What do you make of West Ham so far this season? I ask the 79-times capped Barnes, while on the screens in the bar show the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi final against Manchester City, it’s not so much men against boys as US Marines against a particularly weedy boy scout patrol. 4-0.

his criticism. “You’ve had horrific injury problems. With fit, motivated players you’ll be fine, but you need to start winning matches as confidence is low.” he said. Motivation is a problem for the Hammers, but it’s also just been a case of playing talented, in-form teams at the wrong time, he adds. “The players aren’t motivated enough and they don’t have the right attitude, but West Ham haven’t had a chance against top four teams with motivated players.

“Taking this game as an example, a defence of Demel, Johnson, McCartney and O’Brien is always going struggle against a frontline of Dzeko and Negredo, as is the midfield against the likes of Toure and Silva.” He’s right, really. City are at total ease and it’s amazing that Manuel Pellegrini has fielded what is essentially his strongest XI in the League Cup against a side whose City’s U21 side could comfortably turn over.

This is also our strongest side but we really don’t seem to be giving it a go. This is the big debate for teams like West Ham: Premier League survival versus the glory of winning a trophy. Wigan and Birmingham have both counted the cost of glory in recent seasons.

Does the Capital One Cup matter even less to struggling sides like West Ham than it does to a top four side like City? He’s concise and sure in his response. “Not in a semi final, no. Sam Allardyce played a very weak team against Nottingham Forest on Sunday and he’s played a strong team tonight.” The example of the horror show being played out on the screen behind the ex England star’s head can also be extended to the Hammers’ performance against his old club Liverpool, I suggest.

Could the 4-1 defeat at Anfield, where own goals from Guy Demel and Joey O’Brien contributed to our downfall, be said to sum up our season? “That’s been happening all season,” he said. “It’s always going to be hard for West Ham against Liverpool – it’s the nature of the Premier League now.”

John told me he thinks Allardyce is the right man for the Boleyn Ground hotseat but I put it to him that Big Sam made an error in signing Andy Carroll this summer. He’s not convinced by my assertion. “Andy Carroll can be a good signing and a huge asset if he’s fit. He was unfortunate with his injury, and West Ham’s attacking influence is dependent on Andy Carroll’s fitness; he brings the best out of Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis when he’s fit and on form.”

So what do we need to do to stay up? The 50 year old is placid and measured to the last. “You need to get your players fit and keep them fit. The teams around you are side likes Fulham and Palace – as long as you stay within touching distance of safety, I expect you to move clear of the bottom three.” Where does he think we’ll finish? The hovering Football FanCast PR chuckles. “I don’t think you’ll finish in the bottom three,” he said.

It was great to meet John. Bar Kick is swarming with journalists and bloggers eager to hear his thoughts on all things West Ham, City, Liverpool and Capital One Cup and everything in between, so I appreciated his time and he’s given thoughtful, balanced, on point answers to all of my questions. After the match, the Football FanCast guys and girls want to do a ‘team photo’. I head for the front of the picture, the Liverpool legend clocks me and quips: “West Ham fans up the back! Nah, I’m only joking – get down the front, I feel sorry for you.” A fitting end to what was an enjoyable evening if you forget the whole West Ham being rubbish thing.

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