The all-time Liverpool top-scorer tells Deepan Raj how the Merseyside Derby became personal for him, shares dreams for Wales, the spreading the Liverpool story around the world, and spill which defenders he feared most...
These are dour times at Liverpool at the moment, with the Reds now on a dreadful run of three straight defeats. Poor results have been coupled with unconvincing performances from summer signings, with calls coming from some quarters to get rid of manager Brendan Rodgers.
It's certainly a far cry from Ian Rush's era in the 1980s, when Liverpool were a force to be reckoned with the Welshman leading the way. Regarded as one of Liverpool’s greatest players of all time, Rush is still Anfield’s record goal scorer, with a whopping 346 goals in all competitions to his name.
And, with the 53-year-old in Singapore over the weekend to take part in the Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters, FourFourTwo couldn't pass up the chance to draw the Liverpool legend out in order to shed light on what must be done to bring another golden era back.
With what has gone by in the season so far, what needs to be done to ensure Liverpool can still salvage the season?
Well, it’s been an indifferent start. We overachieved last year and when you lose [Luis] Suarez and [Daniel] Sturridge, you lose 80 per cent of your goals. So it’s a matter of trying to get things back on track. We have a good squad this year, but now it’s just about getting the confidence back in the team. Once that is done, we can go on a run.
Steven Gerrard has come under harsh criticism for his World Cup performances and has been one of those singled out for sub-par displays this season. Do you feel like Gerrard has played one season too far?
No, he hasn’t. He is still very capable of playing, even past this season. He has been a great servant of Liverpool and his presence in the dressing room is crucial for the club. Leaders like him don’t come around very often and it’s great for the club to have a captain like him.
Leaders like Steven Gerrard don’t come around very often and it’s great for the club to have a captain like him.
Where will Stevie G's successor come from? Do you tip anyone in particular to fill the void ?
That’s what the manager gets paid for, to make decisions like that. Hopefully, he [successor] comes within the club. Well, Henderson is the vice-captain now of course and he could come into contention, but ideally it would be someone from within the club to take over from Gerrard when he eventually retires.
You were an Everton fan. How did it feel when you signed a pro contract and made your debut for Liverpool?
I supported Everton as a kid. When I signed for Liverpool, it changed that. When Everton came to watch me, they didn’t think I was good enough. So when I signed for Liverpool, my job was to score and make Everton pay for what they had done. I had to be professional and get on with the job and I did that.
When Everton came to watch me, they didn’t think I was good enough. So when I signed for Liverpool, my job was to score and make Everton pay for what they had done.
You're the highest goal scorer in the Merseyside derby. How did you manage to thrive in big games when so many world class players go into hiding?
You get the big players in the big games. I always enjoyed playing against Everton. I went out with the confidence of not thinking I was going to score, but knowing that I was going to score. In these big games, you’ve got to stand up and be counted. I was lucky to play in a great team and I believed in my own ability.
How far away are Wales from qualifying for a major European tournament?
They have the best chance ever. The top two qualify and even the third placed team goes into the playoffs. If they don’t qualify this time then when will they qualify? I didn’t qualify with Wales but it is my dream to see them get into a major tournament in my lifetime. This time, they have great players and they have the best chance they’ve ever had. If Wales are to qualify, they need both [Aaron] Ramsey and [Gareth] Bale because they are just world class players.
Ramsey has been in a rich vein of form for Arsenal but do you see him moving on to the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona in the future?
I am not sure about that. He seems to be enjoying his life at Arsenal. He has been unlucky with a few injuries, but Ramsey is a player that could play anywhere in Europe. Arsene Wenger has brought him up really well and it’ll be up to him when he has to make that decision. Only Aaron knows what he has to do.
The supporters are worldwide and we have to attract these supporters. Not everyone can go to Liverpool so we have to take Liverpool to them, and bring the club around the world.
You've played against tough opposition but who did you hate coming up against? Who is that one defender that you had to try so hard to outsmart?
There are two. Paul Mcgrath at Manchester United. He was very tough to play against and he was really quick. I think it was about 14 or 15 games before I finally scored against Man United. That was simply down to Paul Mcgrath.
Another one was Franco Baresi.He wasn’t the fastest of players but you just couldn’t get past him because he read the game so well. I had some pace about me, but somehow he just read my every move. He was fantastic at that.
Do you see yourself managing Liverpool one day?
No, I am happy with my current job as the ambassador of the club. It’s something which I enjoy doing, so I am happy with where I am at the moment.
Are you at all bothered with how much the football world has changed since your playing days, in terms of it being more commercialised.
Well, that’s the way the world is and we have to change with the world. With the money that the clubs spend, they have to earn it back commercially. There’s a need to promote the brand of Liverpool football club.
The supporters are worldwide and we have to attract these supporters. Not everyone can go to Liverpool so we have to take Liverpool to them, and bring the club around the world. Everything is changing and you have to change with the times or you risk getting left behind and not winning anything. We just have to adapt and that’s the way forward in football.
Photo credit: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo