Ian Rush: The Match That Sparked My Love Affair With The FA Cup
The FA Cup will always have a special place in my heart because it’s the oldest and most famous knockout tournament in club football.
When I was a kid, all I dreamed about was scoring a goal in the FA Cup final. I wasn’t dreaming about winning the European Cup or winning league titles, I was dreaming about scoring the winner at Wembley.
What I love about the FA Cup is the opportunity for amateurs to play professionals, that’s what makes it special. I’ll never forget when I was playing for Chester at the age of 17 in 1979 – I listened to the draw on the radio and we got paired with Newcastle away in the third round.
I remember going up to Newcastle to play in front of a crowd of 40,000 for the first time and we actually beat them 2-0 – even though they were in the top tier – and I scored. What an experience that was.
After that game, all I wanted was more. I’d been playing in front of crowds of around four or five thousand, which I loved, but that experience in Newcastle drove me to reach the levels that I knew I was capable of.
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In the end, I won three FA Cups and scored in each of those three finals – five goals, four of which were against Everton. Not even two European Cups could top that because the FA Cup will always be special to me.
I remember talking to the late, great Gerard Houllier when I was striker coach at Liverpool and he said he once asked all the foreign players at the club which trophy would they rather win – the UEFA Cup or the FA Cup, and then he asked all the British players the same question.
Not surprisingly, the British players chose the FA Cup and the foreign players chose the UEFA Cup! In the end they won both so it didn’t matter, but I know what I would have picked.
These days the cup doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. I think it all started when Manchester United decided not to compete in it in the 1999/00 season in favour of competing in the Club World Championship, which they never won anyway.
I believe that decision made other clubs reassess the value of the tournament and pretty soon after that we started seeing weakened teams much like we now see in the League Cup too. But no matter what team Liverpool put out against Shrewsbury this weekend, I’ll be watching with a keen eye.
Arsenal Tie Pushed Back
Speaking of the League Cup, you don’t ask for postponements unless you’re really struggling and this week Liverpool FC have really struggled to get a fully staffed contingent together.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders were unavailable and as vital figures for team selection and in-game direction, that was probably the catalyst for the English Football League’s correct decision to postpone the League Cup semi-final with Arsenal.
I’d have questioned the authenticity of the tie if Liverpool had been asked to proceed without both of their first-team coaches. Arsenal are in top form at the moment so I’m sure they were eager to play, but credit to them for not causing a fuss.
Normally, I’d see things like this as an opportunity for younger players to come in and gain some experience and show what they can do, but with so many first teamers unavailable I’d have feared for whoever was to come into the side with no recognised manager on the touchline.
It could have been really damaging for a youngster if they had been thrown into that situation and found themselves on the end of a heavy defeat. Having had no time to prepare given training sessions had been cancelled, that could easily have happened.
A heavy defeat cannot be erased from the record books and that would seriously damage a youngster’s confidence, which I hope was taken into consideration when making the decision not to go ahead with the game.
No Need For Two Legs
I still believe the semi-finals of the League Cup should have been reduced to just one game rather than two legs. It would have made a single postponement easier but now we have this situation whereby one postponement leads to the second leg getting moved too. The first game is now on January 13 while the Emirates leg is on January 20.
I’d imagine all four remaining teams in the competition would have been in agreement that a one-legged semi-final would have been the most sensible solution to a problem that has been bubbling away for weeks. It could have been staged on a neutral ground or they could have done a draw for home advantage.
The games were already piling up and this two-legged affair just makes things extra difficult for everyone involved.
We should have also taken a leaf out of the books of Germany, France and Italy by having a winter break. A lot of this could have been avoided. I understand the appeal of the festive fixture list in the Premier League but, but in these circumstances, it would have been the best option for everyone involved.
Man Utd Issues Mounting Up
For me, it looks as though there’s no leadership on the pitch at Manchester United. They have a great squad but they all seem to play as individuals and some of them seem to be feeling a bit sorry for themselves.
I remember in the 80s, we went through a slump at Liverpool under Joe Fagan and at the end of the day it came down to the senior players to come up with the goods. As it were, Graeme Souness was the one who rolled his sleeves up and demanded more from his team-mates, saying ‘you do this, you do that’.
Kenny Dalglish and Phil Neal were the same, they never felt sorry for themselves. Manchester United are watched by over 70,000 supporters every week and countless more worldwide, there’s no place to be feeling sorry for yourself.
All supporters want is that you give 100 per cent. If you give 100 per cent and you still lose, most supporters will forgive you for that and say well done to the opposition. But if you’re not giving it your all, fans will soon turn on you.
Sometimes the manager can only do so much after picking his team, you need your experienced players to show up when the chips are down and right now Manchester United lack leaders on the pitch.
Whether or not Paul Pogba leaves Manchester United this month will probably depend on how well he’s getting on with Ralf Rangnick behind the scenes. The team aren’t doing particularly well and maybe that’s because he’s not playing, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t look like he has much longer left at United.
Financially, it will be a big loss to Manchester United if he ends up leaving on a free transfer in the summer, given his commercial value. I’m sure they’re doing all they can to get him to sign a new contract but once a deal runs down to the final six months the player holds all the cards.
Lukaku Situation Dealt With Amicably
I was mightily impressed with the way Thomas Tuchel handled the Romelu Lukaku situation at Chelsea. No one is bigger than the club and Tuchel obviously gets that, so I think he went about things the right way and now that Lukaku has apologised I think the club can draw a line under it.
I wasn’t surprised to see him start against Tottenham on Wednesday night. The manager will be urging him to go out and show the supporters how good he is. He hasn’t been playing for a reason, but he’ll get his chance to go out and prove that he’s one of the best forwards in the world.
Things like this can be a disruption for the dressing room but other players can learn from it and avoid making the same mistakes. One or two might have an issue with how Lukaku went about things, but that’ll soon pass if he starts scoring goals again. We’ll see over the next few games how much Tuchel uses him.
Aubameyang in the Cold at Arsenal
Similarly, at Arsenal, they also have an experienced striker who has been causing a few issues off the field and that’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Again, I think it’s great management from Mike Arteta to show their star striker who’s in charge at the club.
If you break the rules, you won’t receive special treatment, that’s what Arteta has shown to Aubameyang and anyone else tempted to step out of line. And truth be told, Arsenal have kicked on and they aren’t missing him in the side.
I don’t see any reason to bring him back into the fold when they’re playing so well without him, so I can see him leaving this window if he wants to play football. Whether that will be out on loan or on a permanent deal, I’m not sure, we’ll have to see.
Newcastle have been linked but I’d be surprised if he’d be willing to go there on a permanent deal because they’re in a relegation battle. Maybe they can bring him in on loan, I’m sure he’d look at that and I imagine Newcastle would be very much interested.
Trippier Tipped For Newcastle Move
Speaking of Newcastle, they’ve shown their ambition with a £12million bid for Kieran Trippier which has been accepted and looks set to be Eddie Howe’s first signing.
If he completes the move, I think it would be a great signing for Newcastle. He’s certainly a player they need – a great full-back. He’s an England international so it would be a big statement from Newcastle if they can get the deal over the line, even if it means putting clauses in the contract in the event they get relegated.
I don’t think Trippier will fancy playing in the Championship next season if he has ambitions of going to the World Cup with England so I’d be surprised if his agent doesn’t negotiate some sort of protection against that in his contract.
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Rafa On The Ropes
I think Rafael Benitez needs and deserves more time at Everton. He’s been unfortunate with injuries but January is a chance for him to put his own stamp on the squad and I know he’s brought in Nathan Patterson from Rangers and Vitaliy Mykolenko from Dynamo Kiev, two new defenders.
What Rafa is normally quite good at is getting in players who can get you through a rough patch, players who are good enough to help Everton finish mid-table.
He’s not going to be able to bring in many big-name players, he’ll be looking at players who work hard and who can do a short-term job and then look to build on that in the summer, if he’s given the chance to.
It’s not going to be easy for Rafa and it was never likely to be because of his past as Liverpool manager. If he’d never been Liverpool manager, I’m sure he’d be under less pressure, but I really believe he just needs time to prove what he can do.
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