Football is full of stories of unfulfilled potential, particularly when it comes to players who burst on to the scene as kids, seemingly with the world at their feet. They can’t all become the best and many descend into obscurity for a variety of reasons.
Giles Barnes was one of those to make people sit up and really take notice when he came through the ranks at Derby County, making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2005 before becoming a key part of Billy Davies’ team as they gained promotion to the Premier League.
Barnes appeared to have it all even at such a tender age. He was fast, exceptional on the ball and big, suggesting he had all of the raw minerals to become a top athlete in the Premier League.
What he didn’t have, however, was patience with regards to injuries or particularly good advice from medical staff.
The first instance of Barnes’ own negligence saw him playing a significant portion of the 06-07 campaign with an ankle stress fracture, with the midfielder opting to not get a scan for one reason or another. Eventually in the play-off final, that injury became rather more serious.
Snap, the fracture became a full-blown split in his ankle, ultimately robbing him of a pre-season before his debut Premier League campaign, a season which should have seen him establish himself amongst English football’s elite.
But Barnes’ impatience wasn’t the only thing to blame for his woes. What made his case worse was that he was reportedly rushed back two months early, casting doubts over Derby’s handling of this talented youngster. Both the coaching staff and medical team had questions asked of them.
More problems inevitably followed, with his season ended prematurely by a knee injury which ruled him out for a second consecutive pre-season and the start of the 08-09 campaign, eventually returning in January.
Barnes later admitted that a subsequent switch to Fulham came about due to him feeling he didn’t get a proper crack at the Premier League, but his luck failed to improve at Craven Cottage, as injuries wreaked havoc yet again.
Barnes did not help himself in his early Derby days, but much of his later problems can be tracked back to him being driven into the ground and considered so important to a side which was struggling in the Premier League. The club’s management of him was poor.
After unsuccessful stints with West Brom and Doncaster Rovers, Barnes decided it was time to leave England and he headed for MLS and Houston Dynamo where, by all accounts, he reinvigorated his career.
Consistent playing time, a trusting coach in Dominic Kinnear (a friend of Barnes’ mentor Billy Davies) and an unfamiliar lack of injuries were what he found in Houston, where in each of his first two full seasons he reached double figures in terms of goals and a total of 72 appearances.
Barnes – who switched allegiances in order to represent Jamaica in 2015 – became sought-after and eventually ended up being traded to Vancouver Whitecaps in July and he is currently preparing for his first full season with the Canadian MLS outfit.
One can only speculate as to where Barnes was headed before being almost completely ruined by injuries as a youngster. His talent was undeniable and, unlike many younger players of his talents, he was not cocky to a fault and his attitude was never called into question. Injuries, and only injuries, were his downfall.
But a 2007 interview with FourFourTwo gives an idea of where the former Arsenal trainee probably would have got without such disruptions. He targeted England caps by the time he was 24, as well as being a regular in the Premier League.
— Steve Zakuani (@Zakuani11) January 26, 2017
While his goals proved to not be possible, the very fact he is still playing at a good level is more than most would have achieved after his familiarity with the treatment room.