Thursday 14 December 2017

Ian Rush: Forget what Balotelli did - my actions were worse

Mario Balotelli gets ready to take Liverpool's penalty on thursday night, as Liverpool's regular penalty taker Jordan Henderson looks on
Mario Balotelli gets ready to take Liverpool's penalty on thursday night, as Liverpool's regular penalty taker Jordan Henderson looks on

Ian Rush

Why always me? It was a question I put to myself in the Villa Park dressing room in August, 1985. I'd scored that day, had played well, but I'd also let the team down.

It was 2-2 when Steve McMahon, then an opponent but later a colleague, tripped me up. Penalty. Phil Neal was our captain, the senior pro, the regular penalty taker.

But I grabbed the ball. "I'll have this," I told him.

I missed. Afterwards the manager had a go. This was Kenny Dalglish's first year in charge. Yet Phil was the victim of his ire. "You're the older player. Why'd you let him take it? That's two points we've left behind here."

I stared at the floor. "Well done Rushy for the goal you got," Kenny told me. "You played well." Yet I had and I hadn't. I could have been the match-winner. But I was the guy who cost the team the win.

Still, no one made a big deal of it. The press weren't all over the story. There was no rolling news channel back then. No internet, either. No ex-players were asked for their opinion on my decision.

No one said I was being disrespectful to Phil. No one suggested I would be on my way out of the club at the end of the season. No one called me a liability.

Yet I did precisely the same thing Mario Balotelli did on Thursday night. With a difference. I missed. He scored.

And yet, he has copped a hell of a lot more flak for being the guy who scored the winning goal than I was for leaving two points behind at Villa Park.

Now I know that I kept a low-profile as a player. Unlike Mario, I didn't go on national television wearing the shirt of our biggest rivals. I never went with my mates to the main square in the city where I played to fire air pistols into the sky. I hadn't set fire to my house. The best manager in the world did not call me 'unmanageable'.

I hadn't moved from one big club to another. But I did the wrong thing that day. I took the ball off the regular penalty taker because I was so confident I would score.

Mario, in contrast, did the right thing on Thursday. He knew he'd score. I did too. I liked the way Jordan Henderson reacted.

He walked away at the right time, avoiding a scene, and was one of the first over to congratulate him once the goal went in. Liverpool won, by the way. Let's not forget that bit.

But Balotelli needs to deliver from here on in. The honeymoon period is well and truly over. The focus is on him. And if this is the moment when his Anfield career kicks on, when he goes on a scoring streak, then he will be at the club next season.

It can happen for him. Aside from the unwanted publicity, you have to remember that he has won four league titles in his career, has been awarded man of the match in a FA Cup final, was named on the Euro 2012 team of the tournament.

Single-handedly he beat Germany in the semi-final of that competition, scoring twice. As recently as last summer, he got the winner against England at the World Cup. I'd call him a big-time player not a big-time Charlie. He shouldn't be made to pay the penalty for being confident. By the same token, he has to deliver. Now.

Racist bullies must be banned for life from the game

I despise racism.

It's ugly. It's shameful. It belongs to history's horrible past. Not to society in 2015. It doesn't belong on a train station in Paris.

It shouldn't happen to anyone, not least a gentleman going about his business wishing to step on board the metro in his own country. Everything about that incident is wrong.

FIFA need to act. UEFA too. The supporters need to be banned for life from football. I'm told French law allows for the perpetrators to be prosecuted and heavily fined. I hope they are. They deserve to be singled out.

A dozen of them pushed and shoved one black man. Can you imagine them being so brave if they were outnumbered 12 to one?

If it was one-to-one, you wouldn't hear them say a thing.

Bullies, more often than not, are the world's biggest cowards. We need to stand up to them.

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