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SPORT

Liverpool legend Ian Rush came this close to playing with a football icon

Words by Rob Chilton

The goalscoring master on tough tackling, classic kits and his favourite game

Ian Rush is feeling chipper. Tanned and lean, the ex-footballer who scored 346 goals in 660 games for Liverpool has been in Dubai since the turn of the year as he builds bridges with the local football community to set up academies for the great English club. AC Milan enlisted the great Franco Baresi to launch their academies, a player Rush knows well.

“Oh yeah, I played against Franco a few times, but never got past him,” Rush smiles. “He wasn’t quick but his reading of the game was unbelievable and his positioning was fantastic – a great player.” Paul McGrath, the Manchester United centre-back, was another tough opponent. “Paul was quick, he read the game well and the timing of his tackling was very good - he wouldn’t mess about.”

In the 1980s strikers like Rush got pummelled by defenders as referees looked on. “Kevin Moran would head the back of my head, Steve Foster would just boot me up in the air,” Rush chuckles. “They’d say sorry to the ref and plead they were just getting into the game. But then we had Graeme Souness who’d do the same to them.”

Rush is in Dubai working for Liverpool FC

Along with Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and many other Anfield greats, Rush was part of a dominant team that ruled England and Europe. After signing for Liverpool aged 18 for £300,000 – he was the most expensive teenager in the world at the time – Rush spent 15 years at Liverpool in two spells, winning four leagues, two European Cups and his favourite moment: the 1986 FA Cup.

“I don’t have a favourite goal,” Rush admits, “but I do have a favourite game which is the 86 FA Cup final. My dream was to win the FA Cup. As a kid, I’d watch the build-up all day from 9am, the match kicked-off at 3pm and then after the final whistle I’d go in my back garden and pretend to be the player scoring the wining goal. My dream came true in 86.” Rush scored twice in a 3-1 win over local rivals Everton. Rush’s second goal, a bullet half volley, famously hit a camera in the back of the goal. “I got a letter about that broken camera,” Rush laughs. “It was a bill asking for 250 quid!”

Confidence

In the 1980s, Liverpool were a juggernaut, built by coaches such as Bob Paisley, Ronnie Moran, Joe Fagan and Roy Evans in the boot room – a hallowed enclave in the stadium that was the idea of Liverpool’s talismanic manager Bill Shankly.

Rush and Kenny Dalglish with the FA Cup in 1986

“We were always super confident that we were going to win, the coaches convinced us of that,” says Rush matter-of-factly. “That’s just how it was at Liverpool. We rarely talked about the opposition, we knew that if we played to our best we would win. We didn’t fear anyone.”

With off-pitch mentoring taken care of, on the pitch it was Dalglish who guided Rush. “Kenny told me, ‘You do my running for me and I’ll make goals for you.’ He taught me a lot. He’d say, ‘When I get the ball, you run into that space.’ My first match he put the ball exactly where he said and I didn’t run. The look on his face told me I’d better do it next time. That’s what made us the best partnership, I knew what he was going to do. He never put the ball a yard behind me, it was always a yard ahead of me so I could run onto it and use my pace. Anticipation was a big part of my game, and I had a good football brain.”

Today, Rush and Dalglish are ambassadors for Liverpool and often watch games together at Anfield, something he has missed during the pandemic. “Me and Kenny sit in the stands and we both know what’s going to happen two seconds before the player does it. So the brain still works.”

Rush in Liverpool's distinctive Candy kit

Foreign affairs

Sometimes forgotten is Rush’s single season at Juventus where he scored 14 goals in a team starring Michael Laudrup, with Michel Platini having just left the club. “The football was very defensive,” recalls Rush. “I’d press their left-back and turn around to see my team mates still in our own half,” he says. “If I went to Italy now I’d say, ‘I’m Ian rush and I’m the best striker in the world’ because Italy is all about first impressions.”

Rush played against Maradona a few times as he led Napoli to two Serie A titles. “I was really good friends with him,” smiles Rush. “We nearly played together. I almost signed for Napoli in 1984, they offered me a million pounds signing on fee. Maradona had just gone there and he requested them to sign me but Liverpool refused. I met him in London a few times before he died and he said, ‘I wish I played with you’.”

Talk of Maradona leads us to comparisons with Lionel Messi. “Maradona went to Napoli – which is the equivalent of going to Everton today – and won the league virtually single handed,” says Rush. “I love Messi but he hasn’t won the World Cup, until Messi wins the World Cup he’s not up there with Maradona. Ronaldo has done it in Spain, England and Italy, which tops Messi I think. Pele was my hero as a kid, the first World Cup I remember watching on TV was 1970 when Brazil and Jairzinho won it – I loved that Brazil kit.”

Rush rates Maradona over Messi

Rush is in Dubai to promote retro Liverpool kits at sports memorabilia store, Seventy8 Sports. “Old kits bring back memories, especially the sponsors,” smiles Rush as he runs through the list: Hitachi, Crown Paints and home appliances brand Candy. Rush has a game or a goal he associates with each shirt and finishes with a story.

“If you went in the Candy lounge at Anfield after the match [to meet VIP guests], they’d give you 100 points. If you were man of the match you’d get 50 points. If you saved up 300 points you’d get a washing machine! I had loads of tins of Crown paint at home, too.” He shakes his head and laughs, “It’s a bit different nowadays.”

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