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Harvey Barnes can be the next big thing for Leicester and England
Watch England take on France in the European U21 Championships live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm on Tuesday. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
Last Updated: 16/06/19 12:11pm
Harvey Barnes has just earned a new five-year contract with Leicester and is part of the England U21 squad this summer. In conversation with the player's former managers, Adam Bate finds out why Barnes is being tipped to go on to even bigger things.
It was Barnsley's game against Queens Park Rangers in September 2017 that confirmed it for Paul Heckingbottom. But it was not the goal that Harvey Barnes scored that day, a curling effort from 20 yards out that found the top corner of the net. It was the teenager's reaction after the Tykes manager decided to substitute him at half-time.
"He had scored a world-class goal but we took him off simply because other players were not doing their jobs and he was the one who suffered," Heckingbottom tells Sky Sports.
"He took it on the chin at half-time but came to see me the next day. In a really professional manner he was asking me why he was taken off and what he could do so that next time he was in that situation he could prove to me that he should not be the one coming off.
"They were really good questions and he was really good at taking that information on board. He is a great lad with a good temperament but he has also got that drive in him where he wants to be good. He wants to improve."
Barnes has been improving for some time now. After successful loan spells with MK Dons, Barnsley and West Bromwich Albion, the now 21-year-old winger finally managed to establish himself at parent club Leicester during the latter part of the season.
He was credited with his first Premier League goal in April - a late equaliser at West Ham - and has since been rewarded with a new five-year contract at the club. This summer, he is part of Aidy Boothroyd's England U21 squad at the European Championships too.
But back in the summer of 2017, there was not the same sort of fuss about the youngster. At least not until a call-up for England at the Toulon tournament. His subsequent performances out in France, where he was the top scorer, alerted the scouts.
"That nearly scuppered it for us," remembers Heckingbottom.
"We knew about him for two years before. We had to do our homework to get the best possible talent before anyone else had heard of them because if anyone else in the Championship had heard of them and wanted them then we knew we could not get them.
"He stood out for us at MK Dons because we had a way that we wanted to play and from that you can draw a profile of what you want from the position. What do we want from our wingers? Well, he had done exactly what we were looking for while playing for MK Dons.
"The Toulon tournament merely confirmed things in our eyes but we were wondering whether that put him out of our league. We knew Ipswich were looking at it but luckily for us they were a little bit reluctant. That gave us the opportunity to speak to him and after that he was desperate to come. We were good for him but he was definitely good for us."
Barnes scored five goals in 25 appearances for Barnsley. He was special. "It was the final third, for me," adds Heckingbottom. "He can create things. He was involved in so many of our goals. He could be having a quiet game and then there would be one moment from him where he would create an opportunity or score a goal. You need that to play in his position."
They are the traits that Darren Moore recognised in Barnes and wanted at West Brom. "I had seen Harvey at Barnsley and I knew he had done well," Moore tells Sky Sports. "He scored two sensational goals that will always stay with me so I knew he was a real talent.
"What had happened at Barnsley was that he had developed physically so he had this real power. My aim was for West Brom to score 100 goals and I just knew that as a wide player he had the potential to bring goals and assists. I just knew it so I went all out to get him.
"Harvey served exactly what we needed him to do. He scored nine goals and had six assists. I knew he would terrorise defences. He had power and speed, he could run at people and strike it equally well with both feet. He can go past people and he has real quality. Once he isolates an opponent then the opposition team are in danger. He is a devastating player."
Moore also has nothing but praise for Barnes' attitude, speaking warmly of the player's "really solid family" background and describing him as "an absolute dream" to work with. A willingness to learn helped him to improve too. "The biggest thing we gave to him was discipline off the ball. Once he had that, I knew he was ready for the Premier League."
If there is a frustration for both Heckingbottom and Moore, it is that the loan deals were cut short with Barnes returning to Leicester at the turn of the year on both occasions. It cost Barnsley relegation. "Leicester wanted him back and never really used him," recalls Heckingbottom. "So we suffered off the back of that and Harvey suffered as well."
At West Brom, it arguably cost promotion and Moore his job. This time, however, Barnes did break into the Foxes first team on his return. "I think he would have been even better after a full season with us but Leicester understandably wanted him too," says Moore. "He has now taken his game to the next level and is under the right manager in Brendan Rodgers."
Heckingbottom agrees. "He is in and around the team most weeks and that finish to the season has set him up well to be a big player for them next year," says the Hibs manager. "The good signs are that every level he has stepped up, he has always responded. We were the next level for him at that time and he responded again. He just keeps going doesn't he?
"He went to MK Dons and did well. He got involved for England and took that opportunity. He stepped up to the Championship with us and took that opportunity. He moved on to a bigger Championship club at the top end and did well there. Now he has stepped up with Leicester. I see no reason why he can't step up another level and establish himself."
The next step is with England U21s and the European Championships campaign that kicks off against France on Tuesday. Moore, for one, does not think it will be the end of the journey - and has a confident prediction to make about his old player. "He will play for England. If he has a consistent season, he can do it, and I look forward to seeing it."
His record so far suggests that Barnes will be up to the challenge.