Ian Rush is one of the biggest names of Liverpool’s golden era. Rush played a major role in the five league titles and two European trophies Liverpool won in nine seasons between 1982 and 1990. His record as Liverpool’s highest ever goal-scorer is unmatched and will remain so for many more years to come. Now, he flies to different parts of the world as a welfare ambassador of his beloved club. On Friday, he made a stop in Dhaka for a brief one-day trip. On Friday afternoon, the Liverpool legend sat for an interview with Utpal Shuvro in a hotel in the capital where he spoke about the club's golden era, the evolution of football and gave his opinion on the Messi-Maradona debate.
First of all, welcome to Bangladesh. How much did you know about Bangladesh before coming here?
I didn’t know a lot about Bangladesh to tell you the truth. I’ve been to Pakistan, I’ve been to India, but this is my first time in Bangladesh. So, it’s just a learning curve for everyone. You know, I’ve learnt a lot already about what it’s all about. What Standard Chartered has done is they have brought Bangladesh to terms like Pakistan and India. They love their football here. We all know about cricket but they also love the Liverpool Football Club. So, yeah, I said it’s my first time here and hopefully it won’t be my last time.
I know it’s a very small time to make an impression. Still, before coming here what did you thought of Bangladesh and what you have seen so far in only one day?
For me, the people are very friendly. You come to the hotel, even the waiters, the people that are serving, they are perfect, they do too much for you. That’s why you go away thinking that the people are very kind in Bangladesh.
You last played in the 2000 Olympics. Your prime was long before that, it was maybe 35 years back. Still people remember you. Just wanted to know that as a star, a Liverpool great, the all-time top goal-scorer till now, how does it feel?
I think when you finish playing football the first four-five years is really difficult. Then you have to reinvent yourself. I’ve done a bit of coaching, now I’m with the executive team with Liverpool. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have work at it. I started travelling the world really when I finished playing, with the Liverpool Football Club when I was just like an ambassador and all that. I’ve realised especially in this part of the world how passionate they are about football. It’s crazy. For me, it’s a learning curve as well. I’ve got a documentary coming out soon and I say in the documentary when I see kids coming up to me, I can’t believe it. In the old days, I had black hair and a mustache, you know. It’s all different but they keep on coming. I think it’s because I am the leading goal-scorer for Liverpool. I speak a lot to Mo Salah. Mo keeps saying why did you score so many goals. He is thinking he might break my record. He would have to be there a good few more years if he is going to break that record.
Are you very possessive about that record?
I think, records are there to be broken. If someone breaks it and Liverpool Football Club have been successful, that’s fine. There is nothing worse when someone breaks your record and they have won nothing. You have got to start winning trophies. I’m thinking about the club. But yeah, I’m proud of the record. Records are there to be broken. As long as Liverpool are successful, the person who does it, good luck to him. But I think it’ll be a few years
I think you really comfortable because Mo Salah can’t break your record of five titles in nine years, two Champions Leagues…
You never know. And again I think I was lucky, I didn’t have many injuries. When you look at Mo now, he is not getting many injuries as well. After he had that accident with the shoulder, you can see his fitness and he has built up all his body. He plays virtually every game. He plays bit more of a wide role now. I don’t think he has scored as many goals but I think he made just as many assists this year. He has become more of a team player. A couple of years ago, he was maybe being a little selfish. But in the last two years he has become more of a team player. And I think he is making just as many assists as he is scoring goals.
About Liverpool’s golden period in the 80s, during that time I don’t think there was any team in Europe which didn’t fear Liverpool. What made that Liverpool team such a formidable force?
Simple, it was the team spirit. That’s what it’s all about. We went out knowing we were going to win. We had amazing team spirit in the dressing room. The hardest thing in football is the manager keeping the players happy who are not playing. It’s all right when they are playing, it’s when they are not playing. It’s the hardest job of a manager. When we had Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, they managed to keep the players who were not playing happy. And we had a great team spirit in the dressing room. When you go out there and play, sometimes if I’m having a bad game Kenny Dalglish would help me and vice-versa. And that’s what it’s all about, playing as a team.
About Kenny Dalglish, you guys played together, you two were instrumental to Liverpool’s success. When I think about that Liverpool, I think of two names- Dalglish and Rush. So, when he became coach, how did the relation evolve or change?
The first thing that we did when he was manager we were still calling him Kenny. The coaches were the ones who said you can’t call him Kenny, he is your boss, you know and all that. Kenny took it in his stride and believe me, he could be your teammate on the pitch but if he wanted to be ruthless to you off the pitch he would be. He would tell you, pull you in his office and give it as good as what he can get. He is one of them managers that is very strong because he had to do that. You can’t put sentiments in this when you are playing. Otherwise, he loses his job and he knew that. That’s why he was so successful. In 1986, when he brought himself in for the last 2-3 games, we had Paul Walsh who was taking Kenny’s position. And Paul Walsh had done nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong. I think he scored 20 goals. Kenny pulled him in and told him he wouldn’t be playing. Paul Walsh comes out and says can’t say anything because Kenny Dalglish is playing instead of me. Kenny knew when to play himself and when not to play himself and that was the reason why we had done the double.
Bob Paisely, one of the all-time greatest managers across the world, not only in English football. What made him so special?
Bob was obviously the most successful Liverpool manager ever. He did things in a different way. You had Bill Shankly, who was the equivalent of Jurgen Klopp now. Bob Paisely would never do that. He would do all his talking on the Thursday and Friday morning in the dressing room. He said when we go out to the pitch at 3 O’clock, his job’s done. I think it’s changed a lot now. Shankly was very vocal, and so is Jurgen. But Bob knew how to sell people the right things. If you were shy and didn’t say a lot, he would pull you over individually. But if you shouted a lot, he would pull you in front of everyone. He was a great man manager and he has a great backroom staff with him… And it all came down to Bob Paisely. He would look at the opposition. We very rarely talked about the opposition. He would look at the opposition inside out but he wouldn’t tell us too much about them. We would get just a little information. But he never go too much into the opposition because he would think that we might start to worry. But he kept saying if you play to your best, no one’s going to beat you. And we went out there with that confidence. That’s how good Bob Paisely was.
Shankly’s famous saying that football is not life and death, it’s more than that, did he really actually say that?
I only met Shankly once, I don’t really know. But in those days you could most probably say things like that. You most probably couldn’t say that now. That’s how football has changed and you have to change with it. For me, Bill Shankly built the foundations of Liverpool and Bob Paisely took them to another level. The most important thing for a club to be successful, you have to start at the bottom. For Bill Shankly to get Liverpool into the first division and to get the supporters, he knew that supporters could be the 12th man. He knew that and that was the difference. Bill Shankly was one of them. And that’s what made Bill Shankly something special.
if you had told me in 1990 that we wouldn’t win another title in 30 years, I would just start laughing at you. The more it went on, the more anxious the players and the supporters got.
After that golden era, Liverpool had to wait for almost 30 years for another title. How disappointing was that for you and when they won another title how happy were you?
I think if you had told me in 1990 that we wouldn’t win another title in 30 years, I would just start laughing at you. The more it went on, the more anxious the players and the supporters got. And Manchester United were taking over in the 90s. So that was another thing. The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United was big so it made it worse for Liverpool that Manchester United were winning the titles. But we got through it. So many near misses. To finally get there and weirdly enough, there was no one there. I was lucky enough to be there when they did lift it in Anfield. But there was only me, Kenny and a few of us there. It was unfortunate that there wasn’t a full crowd there when we did win it. But we got a Premier League title now and we got to keep it going.
About your international career, it must be a regret for you that you never played in the World Cup or the Euro. You are comparable to George Best in that sense.
People ask me what my biggest regret in football is, and that’s what it is, not qualifying for any major tournament for Wales. We had so many good players. We got George best, we got Ryan Giggs, we got Mark Hughes as well and we got quite a few of them. I think if you look at now, we would’ve qualified I think three times. When we were playing, it was only the winners who went through. Now there are so many more teams and they have worked out that Wales would’ve qualified three times in the present setup. That’s the way it was. Unfortunately, we would get Germany in our group and they were the world champions. I think we didn’t get that bit of luck which we needed. We beat Germany, I remember scoring a goal, we beat Germany. Then we would go draw or lose to Finland or Iceland and in those days they were not a strong team. Our failure was not beating the team we were supposed to beat. We would beat all the top teams but then we would lose or draw to lower teams who we were expected to beat.
How much has football changed since when you were a player?
Since the Bosman rule (A rule that allowed players to join a new club after their contract with the old club ran out without paying a fee to the old club) and when the Premier League started, it has become European football. In the 70s and 80s it was British football. And when the players were free to go anywhere, foreign players started coming to England and it became European football. I’ll never forget that and that’s what it’s all about. Now, people ask what’s the difference, the difference between when we played and today. I would’ve loved to play today because no one can kick you. You don’t even get kicked anymore. The pitches are perfect, the balls are light. That’s why football is faster now, it’s because of that. They got perfect pitches, the boots are lighter, the balls are lighter, so everything goes quicker. No one can kick you, when we played it was different. That’s why it was a British game. But now with so many foreign players coming in, it’s an European game. Even Gerard Houllier (former Liverpool coach), god bless him, I worked as a striker coach for Gerard and he was getting all European signings like the French and the Spanish… I feel it became something of an individual game. When we were successful, it was a team game. I learned that when I was at Juventus. I learnt that I was playing as a team. But they used to come and say Maradona of Napoli, Rush of Juventus. I went to play as a team. I think if I went back to Juventus now to play I mean I would say I’m Rush, I’m the best player in the world and people would believe that. But if I went to the Liverpool dressing room and said that, they would say, ok, on you go, let’s see how good you are. So, that’s the difference I went through. The difference of the European mentality to the British mentality.
Your most successful period was between 1982-90. That decade was completely dominated by Maradona. A lot has been said about him. But still, from your point of view as a footballer, what do you have to say about him…
He was incredible, for me he was amazing. In 1984 he went to Napoli. Napoli tried to sign me from Liverpool. He wanted me to play with him in Napoli. I would’ve liked to have played with Maradona. But Liverpool said no so they went and got Careca from Brazil. Then Napoli won the league. He virtually won Napoli that league by himself and the 1986 World Cup. I was lucky enough to speak to him a lot of times before he passed away. To win Napoli that trophy to win Argentina the World Cup, not many people can say they could’ve done that.
Messi or Maradona?
For me, Maradona. Messi is a superstar. But Maradona was getting kicked all the time. I’ve seen him do some things on the pitch that was incredible. Yeah, Messi can do that but I keep coming back to that Maradona was getting kicked to hell. No one kicks Messi now. I think it depends on which era you are on really. They are both superstars. Messi has won the World Cup with Argentina now. Messi has played mostly in Spain, I would love to see him in the Premier League. He has gone to MLS now and he will be a superstar over there. I think Argentina are lucky to have two great No. 10s.
Back to the present, do you think Klopp has lost some of his magic?
No, I don’t think he has lost his magic. He is still there. I think he is a modern day Bill Shankly. He just had a bad two months in between. If you look at our last nine games in the season, we finished it off well. Now, we have got to start the season off well. I’m a great believer in Jurgen Klopp. He is a great coach, I don’t think he has lost his magic.
You had the record of scoring 20 goals or more for six consecutive seasons. Mo Salah equaled your record last season. After the six seasons you had gone to Juventus that’s why you couldn’t make it seven. So, is Salah going to break your record?
Good luck to him, yeah. If he does it, he does it. I don’t care as long as he is winning things. There is no point doing that if you are not winning trophies. He can have that as long as they win a trophy.
*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy