In the bar with Ian Rush

The irony is not lost on Ian Rush that one of the greatest players in Liverpool history has been invited to discuss some of his finest moments for the Reds in a bar called 'Blue'. Having said that, there's something quite apt about the great man reminiscing in an establishment that bears the name of the rivals he once terrorised with unerring regularity.

As the legendary Welshman takes a seat in a secluded corner there's just enough time for to get the drinks in before we start the ball rolling with a poser about his current vocation.

"Well, I'm the Elite Performance Director of the Welsh FA Trust," he says.

"The job involves finding the best kids in Wales and grooming them up to the age of 17.

"They're still at school at the moment but we have to give them the best coaching possible, as well as offering advice on professional conduct etc - both on and off the pitch.

"Then, when they finish school and go to different football clubs, it's not as much of a shock to the system for them.

"We also coach them to get them ready for matches and when they play in the Victory Shield."

A glance at Wales' World Cup 2010 qualifying group suggests Rush's vision is starting to bear fruit, with a host of exciting youngsters playing prominent roles in their hunt for a place in South Africa next summer.

"We send the lads to Brian Flynn (Wales' under-21 manager) when they are 17 and I think we can see light at the end of the tunnel now," he says with pride.

"After two years of doing it kids like Wayne Hennessey, Joe Ledley, Lewin Nytanga, and Aaron Ramsey are in the senior squad.

"The reason they are there is because they are talented, but also because we have prepared them for it.

"When they go to the under 19s and under 21s it's just like walking into a family. It helps them settle in easily and I think that's the job I do... Well that's one of my jobs, anyway!"

One of his jobs? So helping to mastermind a bright future for Welsh football isn't the only item on the Rush agenda?

"I'm also the McDonald's ambassador for Wales," he continues. "That's quite good because Kenny Dalglish is the ambassador in Scotland, Geoff Hurst is the Ambassador in England and Pat Jennings is the ambassador in Northern Ireland.

"We meet quite regularly. I think what we are trying to do is get more kids to play football and, for me in Wales, the more kids playing football means the better players you're going to get. I like watching and seeing people develop so that's part of my job.

"I also do commentary. I do Wales games for Sky Sports and I go to the Far East quite often doing some work for ESPN. I have soccer schools over there as well.

"It basically means I can be as busy or relaxed as I like. I like that now because I've got two boys. One is in his final year doing his exams, so there will be more staying at home for me I think."

Back in 2004 Rush made his first - and last - impact in the world of management at Chester City.

It is a period he remembers fondly, and while there are elements of the job he misses, he is keen to stress that he has no ambitions to return to the dugout anytime soon.

"I enjoyed my spell at Chester," he says. "I thought I'd done really well there so I was happy with that. I wouldn't go in at that level again because it's very, very hard.

"They say it's hard at the top but it's even tougher at the bottom I can guarantee you that. I just wanted to go and have a look at it and I did enjoy myself, but I'm also enjoying what I'm doing now.

"I suppose I'm more into specialist things; like when I was at Liverpool coaching the strikers. I learned a lot from Gerard Houllier.

"I've done all my coaching badges and my pro licence and I'm still learning all the time."

With his recent history up-to-date, we can't let a one-on-one with one of the club's greatest ever players go by without getting him to recall some of his finest moments in a red shirt.

"Well the '86 cup final is up there," he says with a broad grin. "To be losing 1-0 at half time but end up winning 3-1 was a dream. Add to that the fact that I scored two goals and that it was also the first Merseyside final... it's fair to say it was pretty special.

"I think the 5-0 win against Everton isn't far behind that. I didn't appreciate how good it was while I was playing. It's only later in life that you realise what it meant to supporters and what it was all about.

"Then there's the '89 final too. It was a bit different because I was on the bench and until Stuart McCall scored I wasn't anticipating being involved.

"I wasn't 100 per cent fit and I had said to Kenny that I was quite happy not be involved in the squad. But Kenny said: 'No, I want you in the squad. I want you on the bench because it's against Everton.'

"I think if it had been anyone but Everton I don't think I would have been on the bench.

"When I came on for Aldo after 60 or 70 minutes I was probably at the same level of fitness as everyone else because it was a hot day and they must've been tired.

"I ended up scoring two goals too. It was a fantastic game that we edged 3-2 after extra-time. The fact it came so soon after Hillsborough made it a fitting cup final.

"One thing that stands out for me, was when we walked out on to the pitch. We didn't know which was the Liverpool end and which was the Everton end because it was red and blue all round. Everyone was singing 'Merseyside' and that was one of the best feelings that I've ever had.

"It was great because, at the time, Liverpool and Everton were not just the two best teams in England, but they were the best in Europe too."

The mention of Europe seamlessly leads on to the Reds' bid for Champions League glory in Rome this year and THAT game in Istanbul - 120 minutes of football that the legendary Welshman regards as the highlight of all Liverpool's feats on the continent.

Having played in an era when the club had something of a monopoly on trophies, Rush is well placed to assess where our fifth success ranks in comparison to the previous four.

"I could be biased because I won a medal in Rome in 1984 but I do have to say that Istanbul was Liverpool's best European Cup win," he admits.

"I went there as a supporter and it was incredible. I had been asked to do an interview on the pitch at half time with Sky Italia alongside Diego Maradonna, but at the interval I refused to go down!

"There was nothing I could've said. I was proud of them and couldn't say they were going to win because I genuinely couldn't feel it. I also couldn't say anything bad about them so I went hiding!

"The Liverpool supporters were singing and though people say they knew we were going to win it, I have to say I didn't! But when it went 3-1, then 3-2 ,you think, hang on a minute.

"Then at 3-3 you think, 'we're going to win this!'

"So when Jerzy Dudek goes and makes that save from Shevchenko I knew we'd win on penalties. Italians can sometimes bottle it - something I experienced myself in Rome.

"Even though I won the medal back then in '84, as a supporter I'd have to put Istanbul above that."

So what does the legendary frontman think of our chances of claiming a sixth European Cup crown come May? A Reds triumph would make it a hat-trick of successes in Rome...

"Well we always win in Rome, don't we?" he says with a twinkle in his eye.

"If we can get a good draw in the quarter-finals, then you'd start to fancy us again. The players seem to rise to the occasion in Europe and there's something about Anfield on a European night.

"It would be great to mark 25 years since our last win in Rome by lifting another trophy over there. Hopefully we can do it."

The mention of our penalty shoot-out victory over AS Roma back in 1984 is followed by another trip to the bar before we move on to stories of past glories and hilarious tales involving his former teammates.

While some aren't quite fit for publication, the subject of dressing room banter inspires a chat about the great characters he played alongside and which of them would make it into an Ian Rush dream team.

"All I know is that Kenny Dalglish was the best striking partner I ever had and he is number one, there's no competition," he says.

With the benefit of hindsight and the shield of greatness, Rush also believes he knows a perfect foil for the Scot...

"I can say it now because I've finished playing football," he says with a grin. "If you said it while you were still playing everyone would think you were a bighead, but I definitely think myself and Kenny Dalglish were the best striking partnership. I can look back and I believe it.

"Some people would disagree, thats what football is all about, but for me Kenny Dalglish has been the number one and I wouldn't swap him for anyone. You think of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. They're great players but, compared to Kenny Dalglish, you know..."

The sentence is, rather fittingly, left unfinished, as there are few adjectives left to describe the man who has been acclaimed by supporters as the undisputed King of the Kop.

A final round of drinks follow before we decide to conclude the interview with a topic he made a more than impressive career out of - hitting the back of the net.

But can the great man whittle the 346 he scored down to a top five?

"I wouldn't like to give my best goals because I got the same enjoyment whether I scored from one yard or 30 yards," he says. "As soon as the ball hit the net I got the same feeling.

"The only one that really sticks in my mind was my first equaliser in the '86 cup final. Every time I had scored for Liverpool, we had been unbeaten.

"In the papers the next day, Gary Lineker said, 'As soon as Ian Rush scored, we knew we weren't going to win.'

"So I realised that after I scored the Liverpool players were lifted and the Everton players put their heads down. I think that was more of a mental thing.

"One paper said, 'It was the first equaliser to win the FA Cup Final.' We seemed to get bigger and stronger after that and Everton must've thought, 'If he scores, we are not going to win,' so you can see why I like to remember that one!"

"But as for the others, as I say, I wouldn't want to rank them because I just enjoyed scoring them all."

It was once said that genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.

If the effortless way in which Rushie made finishing an art-form is anything to go by, then he is quite rightly regarded as a master.

Copyright - LFC.TV

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