Legendary Rush urges Liverpool to 'kill teams off'
Liverpool legend Ian Rush, admits to "kicking the seats" as rampant profligacy in front of goal keeps the club anchored in the bottom half of the Premier League.
The greatest goalscorer in Liverpool's history was at Anfield on Saturday as Luis Suarez and Co accumulated 27 shots against Aston Villa, yet managed just a single consolation score in a comprehensive 3-1 defeat to a side that had netted a mere 12 times in its previous 16 games.
Coming at the end of a week in which manager Brendan Rodgers spoke of targeting a top-two finish, the defeat shattered a few illusions in the red half of Merseyside and reignited debate on whether or not Champions League football is an achievable target for Liverpool this season.
Rush – who scored 346 goals for the club in a career that reaped just about every prize the game had to offer – articulated the frustration of supporters who have been witnessing good performances consistently spoiled by wastefulness.
"You're kicking the seats really," he admitted in Dublin yesterday. "The first 20 minutes against Villa, we were so on top ... but we've just got to kill teams off. They just had one chance, scored and, suddenly, they've got something to fight for then.
"We've got to be clinical, but sometimes we're trying to walk the ball into the net. It's about having the confidence to have a shot. If you miss, okay you miss, especially early on in the game. But have a shot, get the crowd going, that's where you get your confidence from."
Rush, a global ambassador for the club, believes only patience will revitalise Liverpool.
"These days, people tend to want instant success," he said. "And that's not going to happen. We've tried everything at Liverpool, but it took Alex Ferguson five (sic) years before he won anything with United. So I think we've got to get behind our manager. We can see what he's trying to do.
"I think we're good to watch, but we've just got to learn how to kill teams off."
Rush believes that the introduction of just two new players in the January transfer window could transform Liverpool's season. Who would his preference be?
"I don't know, it depends on what's out there," he says equivocally. "I think you have to be realistic money-wise. You can say you want Messi, but you're not going to get him. It'll be interesting to see how much money's available."
And his expectation in that regard?
"I don't know, but they're good owners, they've been fair and I think they'll back Brendan," he said. "So, come January, let's see what position we're in and if we can kick on from there."
Had he been surprised by the bullishness of Rodgers' comments coming on the back of just two consecutive league wins?
"I could see where he was coming from," reflected Rush. "I mean before the game, you're looking at the fixtures coming up – Aston Villa, Fulham, Stoke, QPR and Sunderland. If you want to finish top four, you should be winning those games.
"Personally, I think it was just a blip against Villa. And again, we're not that far off fourth."
Rodgers has now indicated a desire to give 18-year-old Raheem Sterling a rest and Rush can empathise, given he was the same age when Liverpool made the Welshman the most expensive teenager in British football history by signing him from Chester for £300,000 in April of 1980.
"I agree with him," said Rush of Rodgers' intentions. "When you're in that position yourself you don't realise it and Raheem will be disappointed to hear anyone suggesting he needs a rest, because he wants to play all the time. But it's how he fares in the long run that's more important.
"I think Brendan's done it with (Andre) Wisdom already and the hope is the player will come back hungrier. There is a lot of pressure, mentally as well as physically. It can take a lot out of you. Raheem's still got a lot to learn. Watching him on Saturday, sometimes he's trying to win the game on his own whereas a more experienced player will have the patience to pass the ball around."
Rush can detect mounting frustration among supporters as they watch Manchester United ease towards the possibility of stretching two league titles clear of Liverpool.
"Of course I can sense it," he reflected. "Particularly when you consider that's not the best team United have had in the past five or six years. But they're still top of the league. They're letting goals in but with Rooney and Van Persie they're just scoring more."
With no Irish player in the current first-team squad at Anfield, Rush was sorry to see Robbie Keane depart after a short stint under Rafa Benitez. Keane, he suspects, was victim of a rigid system rather than mediocre form.
"I thought he was unlucky," he said. "I remember being happy when he signed, but the system the manager was playing didn't suit him in the end and he had to move on. But I enjoyed watching Robbie. It was just a case that Benitez always likes to play one up front. It's the reason why Michael Owen left.
"My view is that good players work around a system and I think Robbie would have worked around it if he was played with Torres more."
Rush famously, scored the only goal at Lansdowne Road on March 26 1986, in Jack Charlton's first game as Irish manager and recalls it as an occasion that offered few portents of what was to follow.
"I remember it like yesterday," he grinned. "If you'd looked at the two sides that day and were asked which of them might qualify for Euro '88, you'd have said Wales. We had some really good players at the time.
"It was a real frustration for me that we never qualified for a major tournament and that's why, when people whinge about Ireland getting hammered in the Euros this year, I tell them, 'you know we'd have given anything in Wales just to get there'."
That Irish team in '86 included a man Rush remembers as his most difficult opponent in football.
"I played about 13 or 14 games against United before I scored," he recalled, laughing. "And when I finally did, Paul McGrath had moved to Aston Villa. He was a great player, very quick. People don't realise how quick he was. But I liked him. He was very quiet and just got on with his game. A bit like Kevin Moran – though he'd head the back of your head and there'd be blood everywhere.
"But Paul was a clever player. He knew exactly what to do and when to do it. And the other thing about him was he was very polite. He always said 'thank you very much' at the end of a game. A real gentleman. Him and Franco Baresi were the two hardest opponents I ever faced.
"David O'Leary didn't really worry me, Tony Adams the same. Great players – but I didn't really worry too much about them. The ones who gave me the most difficult time were Paul and Baresi."
Rush believes the recent decision of Liverpool's owners to redevelop Anfield will, long term, prove the right one. "I think it's going to happen sooner rather than later," he stressed. "It's very important. There's something between 15-20,000 people on the waiting list for tickets. We need the bigger stadium. United have 76,000 every home game, Liverpool have 42,000. It's a massive difference on the finance side.
"And I'm glad we're staying at Anfield because a lot of people's ashes have been spread there. That's where the atmosphere is. You look at Arsenal. The Emirates is a great stadium but the atmosphere isn't there that they had at Highbury."
Liverpool to finish in the top four then?
"It's a possibility. We've certainly got to finish higher than we did last season. Realistic for me, at the start of the season, was a top-six finish. But then you get to a stage where you're saying 'hang on, everyone's losing here, anything can happen'."
And Rodgers still the right man for the job?
"I do believe that. He's a young manager, he's got to be given time and I think he will be given that time. I can see light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully, with one or two to come in in January, we'll take it to the next level."