The opposition love to hate him, but Burnley striker Barnes is a great example for others to follow
Ashley Barnes has developed a reputation as a player opposition fans love to hate.
But boss Sean Dyche insists the striker’s career is a “good story” and a great example to youngsters.
To Burnley supporters, he is something of a cult hero, but he certainly knows how to get under the skin of opposing players.
In the last couple of weeks alone, he has been booked for kissing Cardiff City left back Joe Bennett on the nose, while on Monday at Chelsea, he enjoyed a running battle with David Luiz, and merely grinned at midfielder Mateo Kovacic when the Croatian took exception to being barged over by the touch line.
The picture of him smiling has been adopted by thousands of Liverpool fans as their profile on Twitter, as they hope Burnley do them a favour against Manchester City in the title race.
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Whether you prefer to call him a wind-up merchant, or - in modern parlance - a s***house, Barnes is quite simply effective.
Mark Hughes was renowned for being a nice guy off the pitch, but aggressive and ultra-competitive on it, and Barnes is cut from the same cloth.
You could lump him in with the likes of Craig Bellamy, Diego Costa, Sergio Ramos, Neymar, Pepe...players who aren’t averse to the dart arts, who play right on the edge.
But Dyche feels his career trajectory - from non league, right through the divisions, says everything you need to know about him.
His goal return has improved every season with the Clarets, bar 2015/16, the majority of which he spent recovering from a serious knee injury - another display of his mentality.
He is the only player to score against Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea this season, and, as he looks to add to his two career goals against City, Dyche said: “He is a very robust character, I love stories like Barnesy’s and it continues.
“When you think he was at Paulton Rovers, he has had to properly earn his spurs, dig in, learn and keep challenging himself to do more and he continues to do that.
“He is a very, very good story not just a football story but for youngsters, to see there are different ways.
“Now everyone is obsessed with the gloss and the glamour and everyone has got to look the same, every academy player has got to be this polished academy player, it is absolutely not the case.
“Barnesy is not but he has found a way of being a top centre forward in the Premier League and I think it is a great story and it fits with Burnley.
“We have developed a number of players here, who has cost us nothing or very little.”
Disciplinary issues dogged Barnes at Brighton, where he was banned for seven games for tripping a referee, and he also saw red against the Clarets in 2011 after a stamp on Chris McCann.
He has been dismissed twice for Burnley, both for two yellow cards, and hasn’t seen red for over two seasons now.
So while Barnes has garnered a reputation, Dyche believes he doesn’t always get the benefit of the doubt: “I think he is unfortunate Barnesy, because he gets battered all over the place really but he doesn’t seem to get that many things go with him.
“He gets it all over the place in an era now when you can touch anyone, as we saw the other night, with a certain player who went over slightly easy I would say.
“I just marvel at my players, they have no baggage about where they are from and they look forward to where they are going and I think that is a great thing, it is a collective mentality and he is one of them.
“He doesn’t mind where he has been, he has learnt a lot from where he is been and now he is looking forward, where can I take it? I love that, I think its brilliant to have a group who think like that and he is definitely one of them.”
Barnes has hit double figures for the club for the second-successive season.
Dyche is delighted with his return, for a player who was his first cash signing as boss in January 2014: “I think his return for himself first of all, has improved.
“I think he had a fairly quiet start to the season but a strong end, a bit like last season actually.
“I think he continues to improve, he knows his way around the Premier League more and more, he is a very awkward customer to play against and I mean that in a positive way.
“He knows how to use his skills and he uses them very, very well. He can find a goal as well.
“He is terrific for us and he continues to be and he is a good character to have around the place.
“He was a very good investment, I think it was around £450,000 from Brighton, I suggest he is worth a little bit more than that now and he is certainly worth more than that to us here.
“He is another good player who has come through a tough season and come through it in the right way. There are a number here.”
Defenders can be affected by his physicality, and he got in Luiz’s head on Monday night, when he netted Burnley’s equaliser.
Dyche added: “The biggest thing for a centre-forward, other than scoring goals, is to put doubt in the (minds of) the centre halves.
“Before and during the game. I was a centre half and you try to get a feel before a game, what are they offering?
“He is a mixed bag, he can offer many different ways and be a real handful. But has got quality as well and as we have seen this season, he does score goals.”