Liverpool legend Ian Rush is incredibly excited about what lies ahead for Liverpool.
Not only on their tour of the U.S. this summer but beyond it as the Reds aim to get back into the Premier League’s top four during the 2016-17 season.
[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]
Rush, 54, is the all-time leading goalscorer for Liverpool and the Welsh national team, winning two European Cups, five league titles and three FA Cups during his distinguished career at Anfield. He is now a Global Ambassador for the club as well as being the Elite Performance Director for the Welsh Football Trust.
In an exclusive chat with ProSoccerTalk via phone ahead of their preseason trip to the USA, Rush spoke to us about Liverpool’s targets for the upcoming season, Jurgen Klopp‘s progress, his thoughts on the growth of the game in the USA, being part of Wales’ incredible success at EURO 2016 and also spoke highly of current U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Read the full transcript of our discussion below as Liverpool prepare to face Chelsea at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday Jul. 27 and AC Milan in Santa Clara on Jul. 30 in the International Champions Cup before heading to St. Louis to play AS Roma in a friendly on Aug. 1.
How have previous U.S. tours been with Liverpool?
It is the third time I’ve been now on the U.S. tour and the first time we went, we didn’t know what to expect. For me it was amazing. I didn’t realize how many Liverpool supporters there were in the USA. It is absolutely amazing and we are looking forward to it.
There seems to be a huge Liverpool fanbase in the USA, great experience to be around?
Without doubt, not just the players but for the supporters and everything about it. It is a big test for the players because they are playing quality teams. I think it is a great tournament and something that sets the standard as well.
What do you put soccer’s growth in popularity down to in the USA?
First of all I think you put that down to 1994 when they had the World Cup in America, that was a big thing. But I think when Jurgen Klinsmann took the U.S. in the World Cup, he did really well and I think they had a really good World Cup in 2014. When you have a good World Cup, just like in Wales when we had a good Euros, everyone wants to grow up and play soccer. It is amazing what it does, when a country does well in a football tournament. I think that is the reason why.
Liverpool have U.S. owners and obviously the club has close links with the USA. How important is this tour for them?
It is very important, we have an outreach worldwide, not just in Europe. We go to Asia, America and in Asia we all know they’re football crazy but when you go to America, there are so many sports there that you don’t really know what to expect. For me, the last time we went there it was amazing to see how many American people came to watch. That put a new light on it. Soccer in America is getting bigger and bigger all the time.
What is the message the club will look to spread to fans in the USA?
At Liverpool we see ourselves as a family club. At home there are only 54,000 that can come there but there are millions and millions who want to watch Liverpool, so what we have to do is take Liverpool to other parts of the world. Our message is that we don’t come in and get out. As a club we see ourselves as a family club and we want to leave a lasting legacy. We don’t want to go there and leave, we want to put something down there and maybe go back again two years later. That’s how you create a family club and Liverpool has always been a family club.
With Chelsea, AC Milan and Roma coming up, will these be good tests to see where team is at right now?
They are massive tests. As a player the most important thing is that once you get your preseason in you, you are ready for the season then. There’s no good playing easy teams and winning 5-0 or 6-0 but also you don’t want to play really difficult teams right from the start so you will have to try and build yourself up. When you look at the Chelsea game, it is a big test for Chelsea as well. They have a new manager, they don’t know what to expect. With AC Milan and Roma, you always know what you’re going to get, it is always going to be a difficult game. From Chelsea and Liverpool’s point of view it is going to be a big test for us.
Speaking as a player, how important is it to get a good preseason in you?
If you don’t do you preseason you are always playing catch up after. With Jurgen Klopp, if you look when he first took over Liverpool, there were maybe three or four injuries early on because what he demands of a team is to give 100 percent work rate. You look at his teams in the past, they are always teams which give 100 percent. But now he has got the team from the start so once he gets this preseason in, hopefully there won’t be as many injuries, they will know what to expect and I think that will set the standard for the season.
The players having a full preseason under Jurgen Klopp, will that make a big difference?
100 percent. They all know what to expect now. The players who were with him last season, they all know what to expect. Maybe you will get teams that train twice a day but with Jurgen Klopp you will train maybe three times a day. That is the pressure he puts on and those are the demands. If you look at his teams with Dortmund in the past, he plays a high-pressing game. If you don’t give him 100 percent, you will not be playing for Jurgen Klopp. The demands are so high and that is the expectation so far.
So far, what have you made of Liverpool and the results in preseason?
The results have been fantastic but when you look at it, even the players on the fringe, what you have to do as a player is give the manager a problem. These players that have been playing have to give the manager a problem. Instead of the manager saying ‘this is my automatic starting XI’ he should be saying here’s 20 players… and then the manager has a problem. I think these young players that have come in, they’ve done that so far. It has been fantastic for the fringe players. When the first team players come back then Liverpool will say ‘hold up, we’ve been winning. We’ve got a problem here.’ There is competition for places and that is what Jurgen Klopp has done well so far.
Any players who have stood out in preseason? Danny Ings impressing after his recovery?
There are three or four I could mention but I don’t want to mention them because I don’t want to put the pressure on the players. Let them build their way in. Danny Ings, for me is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully he will be like a new signing. What I like about him is he plays off the shoulder of defenders. He is like an old fashioned center forward. He doesn’t go deep and he wants to get around the back of them and that causes defenders problems. It is really nice to see him get among the goals. For me, let’s see what he can do. He is experienced. He knows the Premier League and hopefully he will be like a new signing for Liverpool.
What about Liverpool’s Premier League hopes. Seems so open this season, so what is the target? Top four? Domestic trophy?
Top four. Simple as that. You are looking to make the Champions League next year. A trophy would be a bonus but because we are not in Europe now, it gives us a little bit more time to concentrate on the domestic trophies but also the league. The most important thing now is to get back in the Champions League. That is a realistic target. Chelsea have a new manager. Manchester United have a new manager. Manchester City have a new manager. Leicester won the league last year… I think we all have to look at Leicester and see what they achieved last year. Personally I think Liverpool have better individuals than Leicester, so if Leicester can do it, why not Liverpool? That’s what we are looking at, to get back in that top four. I would love them to win a trophy and because now we aren’t in Europe we have time to concentrate on the league and one of the trophies as well. That is the target.
This summer Wales excelled at EURO 2016, was is special to witness that in France as a proud Welshman?
It was absolutely amazing. I was out there for three-and-a-half weeks with Wales when they were out there. It just goes to show if Leicester could do it, Wales could do it, it is all about team spirit. If you look at it, England had better individuals than Wales. Wales got to the semifinals, England didn’t. That comes down to the team spirit, the manager, the coaching staff. I look at it similar to Liverpool. It is all about the fanbase and the team spirit. Liverpool have that. Wales have that 100 percent. It was absolutely amazing. It was the first time in 58 years that Wales were in a major tournament and they went over there, the fans responded and the players responded to that. It was an amazing occasion and we want to go on to better things now. We want to qualify for the World Cup. It is like Liverpool. We don’t want to get in and get out. Once you get in there, you want to stay there. Hopefully that is what we want to do for Wales. I am the Elite Performance Director of the Welsh FA. We put in the program eight years ago and it is bearing its fruits now, so it is amazing to see that. As a Welshman I was so proud to see them get to the semifinals.
Can the USA follow the same model as the likes of Wales and Iceland who did so well this summer?
100 percent. There are so many more people in America aren’t there? If you look at Wales and if they can do it, why can’t the USA do it? College soccer has been massive but to break through and to get it ready you need the grass roots in it. I know America has been doing it and I speak to Jurgen Klinsmann quite a lot. It has been bearing its fruit for about 15 years now and once you get the first team to do well, you need to kick on. I am sure the USA could kick on as well.
What are the best memories you have of the USA?
When you got to Disney Land, I went with my kids and it amazing and all that and I’ve been to LA, that was great. Funny enough, in 1994 I went to the World Cup with Nike and we were based in San Francisco and it was great to go and see that part of the world for me. I am looking forward to it. 1994 was the last time I was in San Francisco, going to Alcatraz and things like that, it is going to be amazing to see the difference this time around.
You’ve spoken highly of Jurgen Klinsmann, what do you think about the job he’s done with the U.S. national team?
I think he has done an amazing job. As a German, they want everything to be perfect and for me when you talk about England manager, if they had to be English that’s fair enough but Jurgen Klinsmann would definitely be high up on my list because he knows everything about the technical side. He has been a player, a world class player I played against in Italy and he came to play in England and he knows about all the leagues. Not just the USA. He knows about the German, the Italian… For me, him and Arsene Wenger are perfect examples to be the next England manager.