Saturday 24 March 2018

'Defenders know what Luis is going to do but they can't stop him – it was the same with me in 1984'

With Liverpool on the brink of a famous league title, Anfield legend Ian Rush salutes the impact of Luis Suarez and Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool legend Ian Rush was in Dublin yesterday for a press conference ahead of the Liverpool v Shamrock Rovers game on May 14 at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Liverpool legend Ian Rush was in Dublin yesterday for a press conference ahead of the Liverpool v Shamrock Rovers game on May 14 at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Ian Mallon

Ian Mallon

Nostalgia, according to the writer Milan Kundera, is made up of two Greek words, 'nostos' meaning 'return' and 'algos' or 'suffering'. "So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return," he wrote.

A yearning for a return to the old and an ongoing suffering in search of the new are emotions which run deep amongst Liverpool supporters.

Nostalgia is everywhere on Merseyside these days. Each mesmerising performance, every goal and all post-match celebrations are greeted with television pictures showing the legends of the past applauding the stars of the present.

Chief amongst them are the game's most potent duo, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish, who thirst for suitable successors to their kingdom. Seeing these greats give their blessing to a side on the cusp of something truly special, it is hard not to get nostalgic.

In recent weeks, two pasts in particular have been spoken about across Liverpool, the 25th year since Hillsborough, when 96 fans lost their lives at a football match, and 24 years since Liverpool last won a title.

But let's go back even further, to 30 years ago, at a time when Ian Rush was the Luis Suarez of his day, when he played his most notable season in a stunning career by helping Liverpool to a championship, a European Cup and a League Cup, scoring 34 league goals along the way and 49 in total.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ian Rush talks about Luis Suarez, Liverpool FC and a season that he believes will ultimately end in success.

Ian Mallon: Is it possible to compare you and Luis, two free-scoring, quick-footed, very fast strikers, or are your styles almost incomparable?

Ian Rush: I think it's difficult really, to compare myself with Suarez. He has a low centre of gravity. He can get out of tight situations; defenders know what he's going to do, but they can't stop him. And that was the same with me in '84 – people knew what I was going to do, but they couldn't stop me.

Mine was based mainly on speed and running onto the ball. I managed to find space in the box, but with Suarez it doesn't matter; he gets the ball, then does the little bit of magic to create that space for himself.

The quick feet is something we both shared, speed off the mark, and a football brain with fantastic finishing, as well. So yes, in that way very similar.

IM: Could you sum up the job that Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool have done in keeping Suarez at Anfield?

IR: I think Rodgers deserves a huge amount of praise, and the owners as well. Suarez's representatives obviously wanted him to leave, and I think Liverpool said there's nobody bigger than the club, you're not going to go anywhere, you're going to stay and fight for your place.

What Brendan Rodgers did, by making him train by himself, made Suarez think about it a bit, so much so that he came out and apologised. Now it's all forgotten, and that was a brilliant, brilliant bit of work. I felt when he did come back all he wanted to do was play football for Liverpool FC and what he's done since then has repaid them.

I thought last year he was fantastic. The two best players in the Premier League were Gareth Bale and Suarez, but I think he's even surpassed that this year – missing the first five games and scoring the amount of goals he has is fantastic. The fans see that as well, and what you see now is a player who is enjoying his football, not a player playing to get away from the club. He wants to play with the club, and play in the Champions League.

IM: So you wouldn't be worried about rumours of big offers being planned by Manchester City or other big clubs?

IR: No, not now that Liverpool are guaranteed Champions League next season. I would be very, very surprised if he wanted to leave. He looks like someone who is enjoying his football now, so why would you want to leave when you are enjoying it so much? And I think you will see Liverpool getting one or two new players in so they can contend for the Champions League as well next season.

IM: In your younger days, when you hadn't been scoring goals, Bob Paisley took you aside and said you needed to be more selfish – is that true and how important is a strong manager handling such talent?

IR: Yes, it's true. Even though Liverpool were winning, I went to see him and he said to me: 'You're not in the side because you're not scoring goals'.

So at the time I was playing in the reserves, but then David Johnson got injured, and then Steve Heighway got injured and Bob Paisley threw me in against Leeds United and I scored two goals, and then I started scoring for fun because I was playing to get away from Liverpool.

Bob Paisley had come in and told me that he had put me on the transfer list, that I was only playing to get a move. Then two months later he offered me a new contract, and I asked him if it meant I was off the transfer list, and Bob said: 'You were never on it'.

I think it's just mind games that he was playing, and it showed Paisley was about 20 years ahead of his time.

IM: Do you think that Luis Suarez is also benefiting from a strong leader in all areas of his play, including staying on his feet rather than going down or diving?

IR: Oh, I do yes. Look, Suarez was known for diving but this season he has tried to stay on his feet, and it has worked against him sometimes, when he has been fouled but he hasn't been given it.

But what people don't know with Suarez, and you can only know this if you play yourself, is that you are anticipating a tackle coming in and you've got to ride those tackles – I did it myself, but if you don't anticipate those tackles, you'd be injured half the time anyway.

Clever players do that, sometimes when a tackle comes in, you go down, but it's not because he's trying to dive, he's trying to read the opponents coming in. It's like he's diving, he's anticipating what's coming in.

If he were to stand there and got kicked, you'd see him playing only about 10 games a season, because he'd be injured most of the time.

IM: So, you're saying that he's an anticipator not a diver?

IR: Yeah, it's a natural reaction. If someone points something bright at you, the first reaction is to look away; in the same way if you see someone trying to kick you, your first reaction is to move out of the way and that's what Suarez does. He's got such great ball control, he's looking out for defenders whose reaction is to do anything except let him past them, so what he is doing is anticipating the tackle coming.

IM: Have you ever been brought in to work with Suarez?

IR: No, I know him alright, but that's Brendan's job to do that. I have spoken to him and (Daniel) Sturridge, and I've seen him in training, and what I love about him in training is that he's always trying something new, and whenever everyone else is gone in he'll be out there practising free-kicks. He's a perfectionist, that's why he's so special.

IM: What advice would you give to the team as they go into this critical phase, with a huge burden of expectation hanging over them?

IR: I'd just tell them to carry on what you've been doing. There's a reason why they're in this position now. Of course you're going to get all the hype, the crowd anticipating that they're going to win a league title.

Physically, they won't have a problem; mentally, they've just got to stay focused with what they're doing. Don't try to change anything – and I think it's a more mental part now, than the physical side. Don't forget a lot of these players are young guys, Sterling, Sturridge, Henderson, who are maybe too young to know any different.

When I came into the side with Ronnie Whelan and Steve Nicol, we didn't really know what it was, and it's really the more experienced guys who guide you through it, and keep telling the younger ones to keep doing what they're doing.

IM: This team really seems to complement each other – when Suarez wasn't playing, Sturridge was knocking them in, and when Sturridge isn't playing so well, Sterling has come into his own. Which players have really inspired you apart from Suarez?

IR: Over the last two months Raheem Sterling has got a lot stronger, he's done a lot of strengthening work on his body, he's in fantastic form.

And then you've got Coutinho. His ball skill is fabulous, he can win you a game. And Jordan Henderson's work rate is just incredible. Steven Gerrard's new role has allowed Henderson to get more forward with those runs, and with all these parts you've got goals. And of course Sturridge with Suarez up front, the way they're playing, you score one and we'll score two.

IM: Rodgers is already being compared with Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish. What is it that impresses you about Brendan?

IR: He's just a down-to-earth man. When he first came in, some people didn't expect him to realise just how big Liverpool is. Look at when they go on tour to the Far East and Australia, there are 40,000 people there watching them train, and it came as a shock to some of the younger lads, but Brendan understood this is Liverpool Football Club, and it is a special place because of the supporters worldwide, not just in the city.

We knew what he was trying to do, play football from the back, and he made mistakes. Brendan has learned from that but he has brought some great players in.

IM: In 1984 you won just about everything, but if Liverpool were to win the league this year, would that be as remarkable as the treble-winning team of '84?

IR: I think we thought at the start of the season if Liverpool finished fourth and maybe won a cup it would have been a terrific return. We went out of the two cups, losing to Manchester United and Arsenal, but played really, really well. The supporters were happy, and it helped the lads concentrate on the league and they took these performances from that.

IM: On the flip side of Liverpool finishing seventh last year and fighting for first this time around, Manchester United look like finishing seventh after winning last year. Do you have sympathy for David Moyes and how he has been treated?

IR: I'd like to have seen him given more time to build his own team, and to have been given a proper pre-season. But that's the way the world is today, and it's an instant business, look at the share price and stock market and it's very, very difficult to come and be an instant success. What Moyes wanted to do is get the season out of the way and get his own players in, but it didn't happen for him with Manchester United and I feel sorry for him.

IM: The match on Sunday against Chelsea should be a fantastic occasion, but what do Liverpool need to do to beat what will be a typically stubborn Mourinho team, albeit one with key players missing?

IR: Yeah, they've got a few injuries and there's talking of resting key players, but Chelsea have a big enough squad no matter what Mourinho says, just like Manchester City, to cope. They will be difficult to beat, but what Liverpool need to do is keep doing what they've been doing. Why change now? I think the atmosphere will be even better than it was against Manchester City, and that will a 12th man.

IM: So Ian, will Liverpool win the league this season?

IR: We're on top now, and it's up to other teams to beat us. We're usually the ones looking up, but we're the ones looking down now. I think the easiest thing to do is win it, the hardest thing is to win it again, so let's get that first one through the door and start the hard work again. We're there to be knocked off now, and there's no bigger incentive for the team and the supporters to go and win it.

Irish Independent

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