LOST BOYO IN ITALY (Juventus, 1987-88), AND AUSTRALIA (Sydney Olympic, 2000)
OTHER CLUBS: Chester City (1978-80), Liverpool (1980-87 & 1988-1996), Leeds United (1996-97), Newcastle United (1997-98), Sheffield United (Loan 1998), Wrexham (1998-99)
WALES CAREER: 1980-1996 73 caps, 28 goals
A Black Swan event, if I correctly understood Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s critically-acclaimed 2007 book, is an event or other occurrence that would be extremely difficult to predict based on what has taken place in the past. Football is full of Black Swan events, which is why my bookmaker is so happy to see me on a Saturday morning. In all the history of Lost Boyos, the most famous Black Swan event occurred in Turin during Italy’s 1987-88 Serie A season.
In 1986, Ian Rush agreed a British transfer record breaking move from Liverpool to become the second Welshman after John Charles to join Italian giants Juventus (the previous record-holder was another Lost Boyo, Mark Hughes), but spent the 1986-87 season on loan with the Merseyside club. At the end of that season, in which Liverpool finished second behind city rivals Everton, Rush headed off for Italy with a playing record the envy of many players throughout Europe.
Rush joined Liverpool in 1980 from Chester City. He made his debut two months after his 20th birthday against Ipswich, and made just six more league appearances in that 1980-81 season. In the following season, Rush became a regular starter scoring 30 goals in all competitions – an impressive tally that, even more impressively, was bettered in four of the next five seasons.
At the time of his transfer to Juventus, Rush had played 331 times for Liverpool and scored an incredible 207 goals. In his seven years of first-team football at Anfield, Rush picked up four First Division titles, an FA Cup winners’ medal, four consecutive League Cup wins from 1981 to 1984, and a European Cup triumph in 1984.
Yet the 12 months that followed his biggest transfer have largely been remembered in the football world as his greatest failure.
Things got off to a bad start with a debut defeat to Empoli in Juventus’ second game of the season, but in his first game at the Stadio Comunale, Juve’s home at the time, he got two goals in a 3-1 win. Three days later, Rush got his third for the club in a 3-0 home win against Valletta in the UEFA Cup.
The ‘win-one-lose-one’ pattern continued for the first six league games, and ten games into the season Juventus had already lost four times and were five points behind the unbeaten leaders, Napoli (in a season when it was still only two points for a win). Rush got a third league goal in the 3-0 home win against Avellino, to give him four goals from his opening ten games.
Matchday eleven saw Juventus head south to the leaders, Napoli. Fernanado de Napoli put the southerners ahead, but Antonio Cabrini equalised with just under fifteen minutes remaining. The game looked to be heading for a draw before Diego Maradona scored an 87th minute penalty.
By now, Juventus had been eliminated from the UEFA Cup by Panathaniakos and Rush found himself in the middle of a two-month scoring dry-spell that was eventually ended in a Coppa Italia quarter-final first-leg 1-0 win against Pescara in early January. The return-leg two weeks later finally gave Juventus fans a glimpse of Rush’s goalscoring ability. In a 6-2 win, Rush scored four, with new Swansea manager Michael Laudrup getting the other two, as Juve qualified comfortably for the semi-finals.
At the league’s halfway stage, any realistic hope of Rush adding a Serie A title to his four English title wins was over. Juventus were in sixth, now ten points behind Napoli, and Rush had scored just three league goals.
Things improved marginally for both Rush and his team in the second half of the season. Rush was ever-present in the second-half of the season and managed four more league goals to take his overall Serie A tally to seven.
Rush got the third from the penalty spot in a 4-0 win over Empoli and the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Ascoli. His sixth league goal of the season saw him finally net against one of the league’s established names, with the second in a home 3-1 over Napoli.
Three days after defeating Napoli, Juventus lost 2-1 in the second-leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final, giving their city rivals Torino a 3-2 aggregate win and a place in the final. Juventus would get revenge for this defeat though before the season ended and Rush would play a major part. Rush scored an 88th-minute winner in a league victory over Torino that moved Juve above their rivals with two league games to play.
Torino moved level on points in the next round of fixtures meaning the side achieving the better result on the league’s final day would clinch sixth and a place in the UEFA Cup. Both teams lost, which meant, in the Italian tradition, the two teams would play-off for the final European slot.
The game at the Stadio Comunale ended 0-0 after extra-time and went to a penalty shoot-out. With the scores tied at 3-3, Torino’s Silvano Benedetti missed his side’s fourth. Rush stepped forward to take Juve’s fifth and scored to book his team’s place in Europe for the following season. The penalty was to be Rush’s last act as a Juventus player. In the summer of 1988, Rush returned to Liverpool for a reduced price (but still a record purchase for Liverpool) of £2,800,000.
It would be hard to say that Rush’s time with Juventus was successful, but neither was it the complete failure that has since been widely-reported. A lot of the bad press probably stems from the infamous quote attributed to Rush upon his return to Anfield. When asked why his stay in Italy had not gone as well as hoped, the striker is alleged to have replied that life in Italy was “Like living in a foreign country.” Rush says the quote was actually a joke made to journalists by Kenny Dalglish that has since been wrongly attributed to him.
Rush was Juventus’s top-scorer with seven in the league and 14 overall. Few teams could have been expected to compete with Arrigo Sacchi’s legendary Milan team with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten (who, incidentally, managed only three goals in an injury-struck debut Serie A season), as well as the great Napoli team of Diego Maradona and Careca, least of all a team in transition that also changed managers midway through the season (from Rino Marchesi to Dino Zoff). Providing Rush with the opportunities in a defensive-minded league was Michael Laudrup, but although the Dane had starred in the World Cup in 1986, he was not yet the player that won the adulation of both the Nou Camp and Santiago Bernabeu home crowds. On top of all this, there was also the language barrier and the difficulty of adjusting to new teammates and a new footballing environment faced by most players moving abroad.
Rush’s second spell at Liverpool was less successful than the first. Rush made more appearances (329), but managed fewer goals (139) before moving to Leeds in 1996. Rush left Liverpool with a total of 660 appearances and 346 goals – a club record. Rush also added a fifth First Division title to his medal haul, two more FA Cup wins, and became the first player to achieve five League Cup wins.
After Leeds, Rush also played for Newcastle, Sheffield United, and Wrexham, before heading abroad again. In 2000, Rush furthered his Lost Boyo experiences with a very brief spell in Australia with Sydney Olympic. His stay was a ploy to boost Olympic’s crowds and 7,000 turned up to see Rush score on his debut against Marconi Stallions.
Rush’s greatest footballing triumphs obviously came in his two spells at Anfield, but it’s perhaps worth re-considering his Black Swan year with Juventus, as, just as with the infamous quote, perhaps the blame lies elsewhere.