After winning promotion to the Premier League in 2007 with Derby County, it looked like the career of Giles Barnes was about to take off. But the then-18-year-old split a bone in his foot playing in the play-off final – it was already fractured when he got on the pitch at Wembley. Despite this Barnes still managed to set up the goal that saw Derby return to the Premier League.
The injury saw him miss the start of the season and ligament damage in his knee made sure he missed the end. Barnes did feature the next season as Derby were relegated back to the Championship, and scored twice for the Rams at Old Trafford in a League Cup match. A few days later, he was back in the Premier League on loan at Fulham under Roy Hodgson.
But again, injuries prevailed and Barnes returned to Derby. His contract was eventually terminated by mutual consent, and he later joined West Brom.
Hardly featuring in their promotion season, Barnes joined Doncaster Rovers' relegation battle in the Championship the next year. By the time an opportunity came to join Houston Dynamos in Texas, Barnes was still of interest to Championship and League one clubs but opted for a new experience in America.
Now 25, with the majority of his career still ahead of him, Barnes has taken the MLS by storm in his first two seasons. He won last season's Dynamo golden boot after scoring nine goals for his club, one of which helped them clinch their position in the play-offs.
After the long list of injuries, Barnes will be the first to admit his pace isn't what it once was. But the attacking midfielder who has been utilised as a second striker in America, has adapted his game and become much physically stronger than he was as a 17-year-old making his debut at Pride Park. His knee and ankle now rarely trouble him and despite losing some of his speed, Barnes is far from slow.
As his career gets back on track and he continues playing in the way that saw him win so many plaudits in England, his strength of character and determination to return fitter and better than before has to be applauded. If he continues to perform in such a way, no doubt doors will open for him in this country once again. Barnes has spoken recently of his desire to play for Jamaica, but after already being capped for the England U19's, could Barnes ever feature for England in the future? Stranger things have happened.
The MLS, which is sometimes seen in this country as some kind of retirement league, has had the opposite effect on the career of Barnes. Another player who can thank the MLS for his rejuvenated career is a man that signed for Derby this season under Steve McClaren – former Spurs player Simon Dawkins.
An 18-year-old Dawkins looked set to break into the Tottenham first team under Martin Jol, after a spell of a number of months sat on the bench. Luck was against him though, as he tore a patella tendon and questioned whether he'd be able to play again. Spurs subsequently released him but after trials with Celtic and Strasbourg among others, ended up back training with Tottenham under now manager Tim Sherwood.
It was here that the bit of luck his career needed came, as none other than David Beckham – at the time also training with Spurs – helped set up a loan move for Dawkins to the MLS with San Jose Earthquakes. 53 matches and 14 goals later, after a brief stint with Aston Villa at the end of last season, Dawkins is building his name with Derby in the Championship.
McClaren had tried to sign him while at FC Twente, but failing that made him his first signing on his return to Pride Park. Dawkins has so far been one of many stand out performers in a side pushing for promotion, and it's clear to anyone whose seen him play the talent he has in abundance.
His performances improve with each game, and the winger said his defensive performances certainly have under McClaren: "I don't think it was very good before coming to Derby but it has got a lot better since working under him."
Dawkins has the talent to be a stand-out performer in the Premier League, as he can only improve with experience. His style of play can be reminiscent of Luis Suarez at times – ghosting past players the ball appears stuck to his feet. First watching him play I thought he tended to get a bit lucky with ricochets and the ball falling kindly, but after seeing it week-in week-out it's become obvious he makes his own luck.
After 23 appearances for the Rams, with three goals in that time, Dawkins remains confident Derby can keep pushing for promotion: "We just need to find that little bit of form again where we were putting teams away around Christmas time and hopefully this is the time now."
McClaren said after initially taking him on loan, the plan was always to make the deal permanent: "When Johnny Russell was injured in October I thought it was a great opportunity to bring in Simon and he has impressed.
Simon is proving a big asset for us. He has got stronger and fitter with each game."
After a good first few months with the club, the winger is definitely set for a new experience on Saturday as the Rams take on rivals Forest. The atmosphere will be electric and both the manager and fans will be hoping for a big performance from Dawkins if he starts. His ability to drop either shoulder and cruise past defenders will give Forest something to worry about – and a performance is owed to Steve McClaren after helping him continue to rebuild his career in England.
Maybe it's time to stop thinking of the MLS as the graveyard for footballers and start respecting it. Its standard of play will only improve over the coming years and it could become the place to be for up and coming players... though personally I am not sure how I feel about that.
Do you think the MLS is looked down upon in this country and if so, rightly or wrongly?