Barnes vs Blissett: Who Was Better?

John Barnes & Luther Blissett

Look up any ‘Greatest Watford players of all-time’ list and you will inevitably see the inclusion of both John Barnes and Luther Blissett. If ranked, there is a decent chance these men will occupy the top two places, such is the quality they showed wearing Watford colours. Who was truly the better players though, Barnes or Blissett? That is the question we will be answering here as we look at not only their time at Vicarage Road but their entire footballing careers.

Best for Watford

Watford FC logoStrangely, while Blissett features as the first name on Watford’s Hall of Fame there is currently no mention of Barnes. While possibly a simple administrative mistake, we recommend not using this as a sign that Blissett was the far better player for the Hornets.

Barnes made 296 appearances for the Hertfordshire club, with 252 of these coming when Watford were in the First Division (the top division at the time). This has to be taken into account when comparing Barnes and Blissett because the latter enjoyed several successful years when the club were battling it out in lower divisions. In fact, two of his best four goalscoring returns in the league came in Division 2 (19 in 1981/82) and Division 3 (21 in 1978/79) as well as five of the eight times he managed a double-digit return.

This means Blissett had the benefit of playing against weaker opposition while making a name for himself at Vicarage Road. Admittedly, he did score 27 goals, becoming the league’s top goalscorer, during Watford’s maiden season in the First Division but this was a particular outlier. The significantly boosted output can be partly explained by the presence of Barnes too, who had kicked on from his debut season and was proving to be a huge creative outlet down the left flank.

Barnes himself did not hit the goal numbers Blisseett managed but playing out wide this was never going to be the case. He was, however, a consistently steady source of goals. Across his six seasons at Watford, Barnes netted between 13 and 16 goals each year, across all competitions. A similarly reliable provider of assists too, Barnes was such a reliable performer for Watford year in and year out. They often say consistency is what separates good players from great ones.

As well as this superior consistency, Barnes, we would argue, had a slightly higher ceiling during their Watford careers. The Kingston-born man would dazzle the crowd with his mesmerising dribbling and touch, treating them to sights very rarely seen at Vicarage Road. Blissett on the other hand, while a genuinely talented forward with a real eye for goal, is partly revered simply for how long he spent at the club. Had the club’s record appearance holder only spent six seasons in Hertfordshire, like Barnes, he would still be remembered very fondly but not to the extent he is now.

Our final consideration was to look at which player scooped the most Player of the Season awards while at the club. Much to our surprise though, neither Blissett nor Barnes ever collected the award, which is determined by a fan vote. With this unable to influence our decision-making, we are going to stick with Barnes as being the most gifted player while playing for Watford.

Verdict – Barnes

Best for Other Clubs

LFC Liverpool FC logoThe only hard decision we had to make for this article was deciding which player should be considered best for Watford. When looking at the rest of their domestic and international career, there is only one winner: Barnes. Although Blissett did secure a £1m move to Italian giants AC Milan around the peak of his career, the Jamaican-born striker struggled to adapt to life in Italy, managing only five league goals in 30 appearances. At the time, Serie A was an incredibly defensive league (Milan, who finished sixth, only scored 37 goals) but even so, this was a poor return for an expensive player.

This was Blissett’s only stint at a ‘big’ club and the only time he played for another top-division side. By contrast, Barnes enjoyed an exceptional spell at Liverpool where he made over 400 appearances across all competitions. While playing at Anfield, Barnes scooped several individual awards such as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year (1988) and the FWA Footballer of the Year (1988, 1990) and featured three times in the PFA Team of the Year. So, whereas Blissett failed to live up to expectations following his big move, Barnes certainly did not do the same.

During his decade-long spell at Liverpool, Barnes also helped the Reds secure numerous pieces of silverware including two league titles, two FA Cups and one League Cup. With Blissett ending his career without a major honour, there is simply no questioning who was the better player outside of their Watford years.

Verdict – Barnes

Best for England

England National Team logoAgain, there’s no real contest here as Blissett only managed to record 14 caps for England between his internationally active years of 1982 and 1984. During this time he netted three goals all of which came during a 9-0 thrashing of Luxembourg. The other 13 appearances did not produce a single goal although Blissett did come off the bench for six of these caps.

Blissett cannot have any hard feelings about not bagging more England caps as he simply was not that great on the international scene. It was hardly like the Three Lions were blessed with an abundance of world-class options at the time either. Blissett may have been an excellent player at a club like Watford but even at his prime, he was a tier below being a world-class player.

Barnes, on the other hand, is a player many consider to have been firmly within that world-class category during the peak of his powers. His tremendous ability saw him make 79 appearances for England between 1983 and 1995. An output of 10 goals in this time, of which four came across two 8-0 thrashings of Turkey, is a little underwhelming but Barnes was so much more than goals. He was a man who could drive England forward, beat his man and get the ball into dangerous areas.

A true force down the left flank, he deservedly features on most lists discussing the best-ever England players. Some put him in the top 15/20 but even if you think this is a little generous very few would argue against him being in the top 30.

Verdict – Barnes

The Best Watford Player Award Goes to John Barnes

John Barnes
John Barnes (Pangalau | Wikipedia)

If you discuss who the biggest Watford FC legend is, all-time record appearance holder and record goalscorer Luther Blissett is the prime candidate. As for who is the ‘best’ player to play for Watford though, this has to be John Barnes. The left winger operated at a higher level and we saw this not only at Watford but throughout his club career and on an international stage. Often branded a ‘generational’ talent, this is simply not something you could say about Blissett.