Trevor Francis made headlines nationwide when he became the first million pound player in English football following his move from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in 1979.
Although Brian Clough said the agreed fee fell one penny below the million mark, it marked the beginning of a monumental change in the landscape of English football.
Meanwhile, Liverpool signed an unknown teenager from Chester City and despite making him the most expensive teenager in England for a fee of £300,000, it received very little attention in the media.
Ian Rush would certainly prove more valuable to Liverpool than Francis would to Nottingham Forest. The fact that little notice was taken of his signing had something to do with the timing of the transfer, given that Rush joined Liverpool in March 1980 and that he would remain at Chester City for the remainder of the season.
It is perhaps telling that supporters didn’t question the transfers made by Liverpool during this period. They trusted the perception of their legendary manager Bob Paisley and simply called it the ‘Liverpool Way’.
Rush had to wait over six months for his Liverpool debut when he replaced the injured Kenny Dalglish and wore the iconic No. 7 jersey. Liverpool supporters were originally sceptical about the potential of the Welshman when he struggled to meet expectations during his debut season.
He failed to find the net on any of the nine games he played for The Reds and the striker, who scored 17 goals in the Third Division for Chester City in the previous season, looked out of his depth at Anfield. Fortunately, Paisley remained patient with him and continued to give him opportunities in the first team despite his poor run of form.
Paisley would reap the rewards for showing an admirable level of faith when Ian Rush exploded into life and transformed himself into one of the most crucial players at the club. After spending spells in the reserves during his debut season, Rush was thrusted into the spotlight once again when he started in the European Cup against tournament minnows Oulun Palloseura from Finland.
That game marked the beginning of a phenomenal career designed around scoring goals by the bucket load. Once Rush had concluded his goal drought, he was unable to stop finding the net for The Reds. He quickly adapted to his surroundings and scored his first two league goals in a 3-0 victory over Leeds United in October 1981.
Liverpool had endured a difficult start to the season but Rush came to the forefront when it mattered to help guide them to the summit of the First Division table and reclaim the league title from Aston Villa. The Reds also won the League Cup by defeating Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium and Rush marked his second season at Anfield with 17 goals in 32 league appearances, finishing as the club’s top goal scorer.
Attaining Legendary Status at Liverpool
Yet, Rush was far from just a fox in the box. He developed into an exceptional lone striker, capable of not only scoring goals, but also dangerous when harrying the opposing defenders and pressurising them into conceding possession. Rush often noted to the press that he was the first line of defence and Klopp has adopted a similar approach with the role of Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino.
It wasn’t just his incredible strike rate, equating to a goal every game and half that brought him accolades and acclaim. It was also his contributions off the ball and his notoriously dangerous partnership with fellow club legend Kenny Dalglish which is remembered fondly by supporters.
When Firmino chases back these days, it was Rush who was the fore-runner of such defensive responsibility. At this point, it should be noted that Dalglish’s style of play dovetailed beautifully with Rush’s. With sides pushing up against Liverpool’s aggressive midfield; containing Souness, Kennedy, Case and McDermott, making it difficult to play the fluent passing style they thrived on.
So, the understanding between the two strikers, making use of Rush’s pace and positional awareness and Dalglish’s precise passing and timing made them almost unstoppable.
With Liverpool retaining the League title in his second full season, Rush was awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year award. I should mention here that he was also awarded Welsh Sports Personality of the Year. Although, it is fair to say that the youngster wasn’t the most charismatic or outspoken of that crop of players.
It is perhaps the pinnacle of that Liverpool side in the 1980s, spearheaded by Rush but containing a formidable squad of players as well, that the following season they retained the League title and won their fourth European Cup. A tricky feat, if you remember that they had to play 42 league games, along with home and away games in the European Cup – no seeding in those days, meaning in the first round you could meet Bayern Munich or any of the other top teams.
There was nothing controversial about Ian Rush. Even when he signed for Juventus, Rush returned to play his next season on loan at Liverpool. He later returned to Anfield on a permanent basis to produce yet another memorable spell at the club. He scored the winning goal in both the 1986 and 1989 FA Cup finals and finished his career at Liverpool as the all-time top goal scorer with an incredible record of 346 goals in 660 appearances.
He was a professional footballer who let his talent do the talking. Over a period spanning 15 seasons, Rush collected 5 English League Championships, 5 League Cups, 3 FA Cups, 3 Charity Shields and 2 European Cups. The most outlandish aspect of his playing career was soaking his Nike Tiempo boots in hot water before putting them on, although this might be an urban myth!
He may not have been as exciting as Mohamed Salah, or as controversial as Luis Suarez, but there is no doubt that Ian Rush is an all-time great and one of the most adored players in Liverpool’s history.
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