Ten years on from his professional debut, Giles Barnes is looking forward to embracing an enhanced leadership role with the Dynamo after his stellar 2014 season.
The 2015 campaign kicks off on Saturday (7.30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) when Houston welcome Columbus Crew SC to BBVA Compass Stadium. Barnes is aiming to be even more productive this year than last—no small task given that he is the reigning club MVP, Players’ Player of the Year, Budweiser Golden Boot winner and Ironman of the Year.
“You have to keep looking for improvement. Anything less is a step backwards,” he told HoustonDynamo.com. “As long as I keep my work ethic up and I can tell myself every day after training and after every game that I’ve given my best, that’s good enough for me.”
Last season the forward started all 34 league games and contributed 11 goals and five assists, improving on his impressive 2013, when his 32 starts and one substitute appearance garnered nine goals and four assists. He committed twice as many fouls last year compared with 2013, underlining his determination to make tackles and help the team out defensively.
As well as trying to boost his own production on the field, the 26-year-old is ready to use his experience to inspire and encourage the players around him.
“Out on the pitch you’ll see me running around giving 100%. Some people aren’t the most vocal leaders but you can tell [they inspire] by the way they play—the likes of Luis Garrido, he doesn’t really speak much English but if he puts a tackle in he gets the people around him going. I’m probably one of the more vocal people on the team as well; it’s about keeping everyone focused and going in the same direction,” he said.
Head coach Owen Coyle has talked with Barnes about leadership. “It’s something I spoke to Giles about—what my expectations of Giles are, what I think he can bring to the group. And he’s really taken that on board, really grasped that. There’s been a real maturity about Giles Barnes,” he told HoustonDynamo.com.
“You’ve seen that in his play anyway in the last couple of years—his maturing in terms of his play, his understanding, how he gets the best out of his attributes and assets, which he has in abundance. I’ve said to him, there’s a role within all that, that you can have that maturity and be influential within that locker room.”
Barnes joined the Dynamo in the summer of 2012, so this will be his third full season in Houston. He also feels he’s at the perfect age to connect with his teammates. “It gives me the chance to pass on my experiences to the young boys and also bridge that gap, being 26, with the guys who are a little bit older and the guys that are younger,” he said.
Another player in his mid-twenties, striker Will Bruin, loves playing with the Englishman. “Since he’s gotten here I think we’ve had a great understanding, great chemistry on the field. He’s a guy you want the ball at his feet, he can dribble at defenders, he’s got power, he’s got pace, he’s a good finisher, he’s someone that makes guys around him better and when you have somebody like that, with defenders worried about where he’s at, it opens up space for other guys,” said Bruin.
Barnes exploded like a firework on to the English scene in 2005 with Derby County, making his first-team debut that August and attracting plenty of buzz as a speedy, tricky winger before a couple of serious injuries slowed his progress. He’s been dealing with a minor thigh problem in preseason, but has been consistently healthy in Houston, mainly playing as a striker. This season his all-time tally of Dynamo appearances is set to surpass the total of 87 league starts he made in England with Derby, West Bromwich Albion and Doncaster Rovers between 2005 and 2012.
“It’s gone quickly, now I look back at it. There’s been some really great times. Also there’s been some dark times with injuries and that kind of stuff but I can look back now and know I made the right decisions at certain times in my life to make me a better person and a better player as well. The fact that I’m still playing after everything I’ve been through is still fantastic too,” he said.
Barnes is delighted that Coyle was appointed after hearing positive reviews from friends who’ve played under the Scot. “I knew quite a lot about Owen, I had some friends that had played for Owen—Tyrone Mears [now with Seattle], Daniel Sturridge [currently with Liverpool]. Stuart Holden obviously as well. I knew quite a bit about him and soon as he was named I was really excited with everything I’d heard about him. Tyrone texted me and said, ‘you’re going to love it’,” he said.
And Coyle is no less enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with a player he rates highly and remembers fondly from English soccer. Ten years on from his debut, Coyle admires Barnes’ mental strength as well as his flair with the ball at his feet.
“When Giles Barnes burst onto the scene in England he was one of, if not the best, young player in the country. He was in that elite group. The only thing that happened was he picked up a couple of injuries that curtailed him a little bit but there was never any doubt about the ability, the potential, that Giles Barnes had,” said Coyle.
“I think—and this is the great thing about him—because he’s had a couple of knocks, from going from that when he came in and everybody raving about him, he had those injuries, it hit his career, he took a couple of steps down and bounced back. And now at the level he’s playing I’ve got no doubt that Giles Barnes will continue to grow, continue to flourish and he’s going to be a top, top player in MLS.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.