Whatever happened to Giles Barnes?

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Sports writer Scott Johnson talks to a midfielder who was rated among English football's hottest young talents five years ago, and is now looking to rebuild his career in the USA...

When former Derby, West Brom and Doncaster midfielder Giles Barnes talks you through the injuries he has endured in his career to date, you wince.

“I was playing with an ankle stress fracture in the run to the 2007 play-off final with Derby,” Barnes explains. “For whatever reason, I didn’t have a scan on it and was taking injections - it cracked in the final. It was a fracture but then it split.

“The following February, I dislocated and ruptured knee ligament tendons. I went on loan to Fulham, but soon got a partial tear of my Achilles tendon. I went back to Derby for pre-season, trained when I should have been resting and it fully ruptured in a friendly against Stoke City.”

But the former Derby County prodigy is still playing, which is perhaps an achievement in itself. Currently plying his trade with Houston Dynamo in MLS, Barnes says: “Most people would have given up after all that, but I’m still here, still fighting, and I still want to play in the Premier League. I’m still 24 and I’m just happy to be playing.”

MLS enthusiasts and anyone who watched David Beckham’s LA Galaxy defeat Houston in the 2012 MLS Cup Final will have seen Barnes introduced late in the second half. With his side trailing, he was unable to inspire a surprise comeback. However with a full pre-season now behind him, he is looking to have a far greater impact in the new season.

“I came over here in September, at the back end of last season. I didn’t have a pre-season and when I got the phone call I was on holiday in Monaco. I had two weeks to get fit as they needed help with their final play-off push. We both understood that my role would have to be coming off the bench because I hadn’t done anything from April to September, just training on my own.”

A long-term MLS target, his move Stateside has been a long time in the offing. “I got asked to come to the MLS a couple of years ago but I chose to stay in England and play a season in the Championship. I got approached by Houston last January, when I was coming to the end of my contract at Doncaster, but I decided to stay for another six months. I had a lot of interest from England and Italy, but I thought it was the right time to come out here and start a new chapter in my life.”

In moving to Houston, Barnes joined one of the most successful franchises in MLS. After relocating from San Jose in 2006, the Dynamo won the MLS Cup twice in their first two seasons and are play-off regulars. Part owned by boxing great Oscar De La Hoya, they play at the brand-new, purpose built BBVA Compass Stadium in front of near capacity crowds of 22,000.

His goal for this season is simple: “to go one step further than last year and win the cup”

Barnes signed his first professional contract on his 17th birthday and Phil Brown gave him his Derby debut nearly soon after. He soon became a key figure at Pride Park, and established a lofty reputation with the Championship side, who eventually achieved promotion in 2007.

Derby famously recorded a record low points total in their 2007/08 campaign, most of which Barnes missed through injury. The frustration of extended spells on the sidelines also prompted his move to Fulham in January 2009. “The reason I left Derby to join Fulham was that I had missed out on the Premier League, I felt like I had been robbed of my chance,” he concedes, but things only got worse at Craven Cottage.

Despite a string of impressive performances for the reserves, Barnes did not record a single first team appearance for Roy Hodgson’s side. “I had just come back from my knee injury, played a few reserve team games then Roy told me I would be playing the following Saturday. The Tuesday before, I felt something wrong with my Achilles and I never really recovered from that.”

He joined West Brom in February 2010 but found the arrival of Hodgson a year later was once again a bad omen. “When he arrived, we were just above the relegation zone and he told me that if the team were mid-table, I would be playing,” Barnes explains. “The way he wanted to set up the team in a solid formation wouldn’t allow for a free spirit, so I would be used sparingly, if at all. That was a bitter pill to swallow, but at least he didn’t leave me in the dark.”

A move to Steve McClaren’s Nottingham Forest failed to materialise (“the club knows why it didn’t happen”) but Barnes did complete a move to Doncaster in August 2011. He made 36 appearances for the Championship strugglers, largely utilised in an unfamiliar position. “I got asked to play in a certain, restricted midfield role, winning second balls, a lot of tackling, a lot of heading, not allowed to roam free, which isn’t really my game. I had to change my game in order to play and played quite a lot."

Rovers were eventually relegated, as an influx of ‘super agent’ Willie McKay’s high-profile clients underwhelmed and underperformed.

“We had some well-known, big game players. We all got on with each other, everything was fine, it just didn’t click on the pitch,” Barnes says. “Nobody wanted us to go down and everyone wanted to play for the club, Dean Saunders is a very enthusiastic manager, it didn’t work but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

Barnes is looking rediscover the fine form of the early days of his career with Houston, and also hopes to return to his favoured position. “When I first started out, I was given a lot of freedom to roam around the pitch, and that was down to Billy Davies. He knew how to play me and where I wanted to play. The teams I have gone on to play for have not allowed me to play that role, I’ve played wide or centrally with a lot more responsibility.”

He regards Davies fondly and considers the recently reappointed Forest boss as the most influential manager he has worked with thus far. “Billy Davies was the one I really enjoyed working with. When you’re 18 years old and you’ve got a manager that trusts you, making you feel 100ft tall, what more can you ask for? Over here, I’m loving working for Dominic Kinnear, who is also Scottish and knows Billy. There are a lot of similarities between the two.”

In May 2007, Barnes was profiled by FourFourTwo’s Boy’s a Bit Special feature. When asked where he expected to be in five years’ time, Barnes answered: “In the Premiership – although there might be a chance we’ll get there much sooner. I’d also like to be knocking on the door of the England setup. I’ve yet to play for the U21’s, so I know it’s going to be a big ask to push for a senior call. But you’ve got to set yourself targets.”

Reflecting on these claims, Barnes concedes: “Injuries are a big part of the game and I had a lot for two and a bit years. My faith and belief have helped me through some dark times, it’s a big part of my life, a big part of what my grandma and my dad instilled in me. I’ve had some great times at some great clubs and I’ve had some low times with the injuries, but I’m still playing and that’s an accomplishment for me. You can’t live with regrets.”

Boy's A Bit Special Giles Barnes speaks to FFT in 2007