It might be hard to imagine Graeme Souness, the Roy Keane of his era, taking to the pitch for even a routine assignment with anything other than his most ferocious battle face on but, as he revealed in his Sunday newspaper column at the weekend, he and his Liverpool team mates were “larking around like 12-year-olds” in the tunnel before they walked out to play Roma in the latter’s own backyard in the 1984 European Cup final.

Ian Rush — who, along with Souness, would be successful from the spot as Liverpool went on to win their fourth European Cup in a penalty shootout that night — confirmed the story in Dublin yesterday.

“The memory for me was in the tunnel singing that Chris Rea song, ‘I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It’,” the legendary striker recalled with a grin.

“It was weird, yeah, but everyone was doing it. Phil Neal and everyone. Craig Johnson was the one who got it going, I think. We did it throughout the European Cup. We had a great team spirit in ‘84 and that’s what it’s all about.”

There was no psychological warfare intended, Rush says now; it was only later he discovered how much of a destabilising impact Liverpool’s pre-match high jinks had on the Roma players at the time.

“When I went to Italy afterwards, to Juventus, they were asking, ‘What was that song you were singing?’

“It put the Roma players off but we didn’t realise that at the time. We were side-by-side (in the tunnel) and we were all doing that. They were just looking at us as if we were
stupid or something.

“To go there, we didn’t think we were going to win, but we went out and played. When it gets to penalties, probably the most nerve-wracking time for me was walking from the halfway line to the penalty spot because you are by yourself. You haven’t got your teammates to rely on and you have 60,000 people booing you. When I scored, I would say it was the most relieved I’ve been. It was absolutely amazing. We had a good night then. It was the end of the season and we had a good week after that!”

Rush sees a similar feelgood spirit in the current Liverpool team who find Roma standing in their way as the Merseysiders attempt to reach another European final. Rush thinks the canny Italians will provide a tough test at Anfield tonight and in the second leg in Rome but believes Liverpool’s firepower should be enough to see them through, especially with a certain Mo Salah in such incendiary form. And the Welshman, of all people, knows an exceptional finisher when he sees one.

“There’s only two people that I’ve seen in their first
season that were really, really good — Torres and Suarez — and I’d go as far as saying that Salah is having a better season in his first season than those two. That takes some saying. Salah will come short for a ball and he’ll go long for a ball. When he gets into the box, he reminds me of Messi when he gets onto his left foot. He’s playing with confidence now. When I scored my goals, I went out knowing I was going to score. And I’m pretty certain he’s doing the same.

“He must be thinking that all of the time. He must want to play all of the time. People said he should have been rested against West Brom but when you’re in that sort of form, you want to play. You talk about Ronaldo and Messi — now people are saying Ronaldo, Messi, and Salah. That’s how good a season Mo Salah has had.”

Yet, Pep Guardiola reckons Kevin de Bruyne’s immense contribution to Manchester City’s title should have earned him the PFA Player of the Year gong?

“I think Salah has been the best player in the English Premier League this season,” was Rush’s matter of fact response. “De Bruyne may be a more complete player for Manchester City, but if you are just going by this season, Salah without a doubt. For me, you can’t compare the two. Salah has had an amazing season for Liverpool. We beat Manchester City twice and hopefully next season we can compete with them for the league.”

Meantime, with the prolific Egyptian now just six shy Rush’s record of 47 goals, set in that 1983-84 season, is the Welshman nervous about being knocked off his perch?

“Not nervous,” he smiled. “I think there’s a genuine chance he can beat it. If they do get to the final and he breaks it in the final, I’ll be happy. I’ll settle for that all day long. Once it doesn’t go to penalties!”

Red legend’s Maradona regret

By Liam Mackey

Rushie still singing from the Liverpool hymn sheet

Ian Rush says his biggest regret in football was missing out on an opportunity to play with a man widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time.

“Napoli tried to sign me in 1984 when they had just signed Maradona but Sir John Smith, the (Liverpool) chairman, wouldn’t let me go,” says the legendary striker, who would later go on to play in Italy with Juventus.

“My biggest regret is not playing with Maradona. I was lucky enough to play against him.

“He was always an amazing player and to be on the pitch with him was incredible.

“You talk about Messi but you look at Maradona — he went from Barcelona to Napoli, an average side, and he won them the league, no mean feat. I may be a bit biased but I’d put him a bit higher [than Messi]. If Argentina win the World Cup then maybe yes, but to be on the same pitch as Maradona was incredible.”

Rush, now a Liverpool FC Ambassador, was at the Aviva Stadium yesterday for confirmation Napoli will provide the opposition for the Reds in a pre-season friendly in Dublin on Saturday August 4. Tickets for the game at the Aviva go on sale this Friday at 11am via www.ticketmaster.ie with prices ranging from €10 for children through to €125 for a family package.


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