Saturday, July 19 th, 2014
Mission  |  Team  |  Contact Us
From Liverpool to Juventus... and back. The short Italian story of Ian Rush
“Joining Juventus was one of the best things I’ve ever done”. This is not the first quote which would come to mind when one considers Ian Rush’s short spell at Juve in the 1987-88 season, but it is how Rush remembers the time
by Anthony Pepe
Ian Thomas Rush, born in 1961 in north Wales not twenty miles from the English port city of Liverpool, the city where he became the record Liverpool FC goal-scorer with 346 goals, the record Merseyside derby (between Liverpool and Everton) goal-scorer with 25 goals, winning five League titles, three FA Cups and two European Cups in the process. Ian Rush was, in the mid-eighties, hot property, and the type of player that Liverpool would not readily sell. But sell they did in 1986, to Juventus, for a then British record transfer fee of £3.2 million.


Liverpool, despite the ban on English clubs participating in European competition after the Heysel disaster of 1985, was a legitimate European giant. Liverpool FC were suffering financially due to their European exclusion, and when Juventus president Giampiero Boniperti made his bid, the Liverpool board decided to break their supporters’ hearts and sold the club legend. Boniperti then announced that due to restrictions placed on clubs concerning how many foreign players can be registered at the same time, that Rush would be loaned out to Lazio (in Serie B) for the first year of his Juventus contract. Michel Platini had decided to play for one more year at Juve before retiring and Boniperti wished to give space to a young Michael Laudrup. Rush managed to negotiate, and played his one-year loan period back in Liverpool, where he immediately removed any doubts as to whether his heart was in it or not.


Considering Rush’s success in Liverpool, one would be right to ask why he left. In Rush’s words: “All the best players in the world were in Italy then. If Wales would have qualified for a major tournament I most probably wouldn’t have gone to Juventus. I just wanted to see how it was to play against the top foreign players in the world.”


In 1987, Rush started his Italian adventure proper. In the summer of 1988, he was sold, back to Liverpool for an English record signing of £2.7 million. What went so wrong, that a player as undoubtedly talented as Rush was considered a bidone (a dud) in Italy? His time at Juve can be re-evaluated with the help of hindsight, and while it was clear at the time that Rush was unlucky with injuries, we now also know what Platini knew; that Juventus was at the end of a cycle. Platini told Rush as he arrived: “You’ve come at the wrong time to Juventus. You should have been here 2-3 years ago when we had a better team.” And as predicted by Platini, Juve suffered a title drought which lasted nine years.


Players which should have been giving the passes that Rush required, like Boniek and Platini, were no longer at the club. At Liverpool, Rush thrived while playing off the shoulder of the last defender, and depended on waiting for Kenny Dalglish (or later Peter Beardsley) to slip him a through ball.


Ian Rush’s debut in Italy was against Lecce, where he pulled his thigh muscle, ruling him out for five weeks. His first two goals were scored in his third game, at home against Pescara, both typical Rush goals. The first was a classical poacher’s goal, the second sprinting onto a through ball and smashing the ball into the top corner.


Rush did and does freely admit that he never personally acclimatised to life in Italy, however, the oft-repeated line: “It was like a foreign country,” which was attributed to him by Dalglish, was a mischievous fabrication on Dalglish’s part. Rush said at the time: “It’s true, my only friend here is Laudrup, he and his girlfriend speak good English, so Tracy (Rush’s wife) and I never feel alone.”


In an era just before easy international travel, and internet, adapting to foreign conditions was a hit and miss scenario for footballers. For every John Charles there is a Jimmy Greaves, and for every Liam Brady, there is an Ian Rush. However Charles and Brady joined Juve during periods of strength for the Bianconeri. In 1987, according to Rush: “There are six new players [here] and therefore we’re not really a team yet.” Rush was also played out of position, an affliction which seemed to affect British strikers at world class teams everywhere in the 80’s; Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes were played on the wing for Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively.


Nevertheless, Rush’s numbers in Italy were respectable, and Rush was a player who should be judged on his fantastic career scoring rate. Ian Rush bagged 14 goals during his sole season in Italy (8 in Serie A), including a four-goal haul against Pescara in the Coppa Italia (Juve in yellow).

When one puts these numbers into context, Diego Maradona scored 14 league goals and was Capocannoniere, Marco Van Basten, also in his debut season in Italy, scored 8, one can consider Rush’s time in Italy to be harshly judged. And in any case, Rush achieved precisely what he wanted, to test himself against the best, and in his own words: “Joining Juventus was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Thursday, April 17 th, 2014
For discussion of this topic and many more, join more than 10,000 fans at R/Football