This Is Anfield editor Matt Ladson recently caught up with former Red Ronnie Whelan.
The charismatic Irishman, who won 16 trophies during a career spanning 14 years with the club, provided interesting answers and tales from his past as a player and manager.
Whelan arrived on Merseyside shortly after his 18th birthday in 1979, but confessed he followed Man United as a young kid growing up in Dublin ‘“ this was met with a questionable look and Ronnie quipped ‘œAh leave it out I was only bloody six years old how was I to know it was a shit-hole!’
As a player Whelan lead by example and went on to become captain at the club when he moved into central midfield later in his career. He did in fact lift the FA Cup in 1989 as captain ‘“ although Alan Hansen was meant to be club captain that year.
‘œI was so fortunate,’ Whelan told as he described how Hansen got injured in pre-season after a long ball went over Whelan’s head and as Hansen came over to cover, he fell over a piece of metal which went around the running track ‘“ he did his knee and was out for the season.
‘œI was so fortunate in ’89 to walk them steps as captain ‘“ and that was because Hansen was injured!’ Hansen had in fact returned to the team but Whelan retained the captaincy for continuity.
Ronnie also reminisced about the 1984 European Cup Final and the penalty shoot-out. He told how in the build up Bob Paisley had the players have a shoot-out against the apprentices ‘“ and lost 4-1! ‘œSo when it did go to penalties, we weren’t confident,’ he admitted. But thanks to Bruce Grobelaars ‘˜crazy-legs’ antics the Reds were left needing to score one penalty.
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‘œYou can imagine the tension in the centre circle, and it’s the only game ive seen Alan Hansen get excited in ‘“ or life in general!’ He told how the Scotsman was running around ‘˜If we score this we win the European Cup. C’mon who’s taking it, who’s taking it?!’ he was shouting.
‘œAnd as Alan looked round he’s seen Alan Kennedy walking away with the ball, and turns back around to the lads and goes ‘˜Ah well that’s fucked it then Belly’s (Kennedy’s nickname) taking it!”
Whelan started life as a left midfielder but moved into the centre later during his Anfield career and made almost 500 appearances, scoring 73 times. Interestingly, when questioned about who the greatest player he played with he chose Graeme Souness over the likes of Rush, Hansen and Dalglish. ‘œHe could do everything, he was a player you always wanted in your team, you’d hate to play against him, he could control the pace of the game, even if he had a bad game he got everybody else playing around him ‘“ an absolutely magnificent player.’
When asked about the one player he hated playing against most, he gave the answer of a man who went on to play for Liverpool ‘“ Paul Ince. ‘œWhat a pain in the arse he was!’ described Whelan. ‘œHe never shut up from the first minute to the ninetieth minute. Just shouting at referees, shouting at players, just kept going and going and going. A very funny individual and I just didn’t like playing against him.’
In 1982 Whelan won his first League title, and scored the third goal in a 3-1 win over Spurs. As a young player Ronnie expected celebrations and parties but the irrepressible Bob Paisley walked into the changing room afterwards with a shoe box, chucked the lads a medal each and said ‘˜See you on 8th July’. Showing the desire to win trophies season after season which lead to Paisley becoming the most successful English manager ever.
Whelan went on to tell a tale from his times coaching in Greece (Panianios) and Cyprus (Olympiakos Nicosa). He summed up the game over there in one word ‘“ ‘œcorrupt’ – and went on to tell how once he was told by the chairman before a game ‘˜Ronnie, this match will finish 0-0’ ‘“ the two managers, captains and officials were told and when a young foreign player had 3 shots on target in the opening 15 minutes, he was promptly subbed.
The former Republic of Ireland international was also asked about his time coaching Southend United and told the differences between top flight football and lower leagues in England ‘“ and in particular the mentality of players. He admitted he found it difficult as players lower down would dismiss drills they couldn’t understand or work out, whereas top players would work hard on the training ground until they got it right. Asked if he’d ever coach in England again ‘“ ‘œnever!’
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When questioned on his views of the club now under Benitez ‘“ and previously under Gerard Houllier ‘“ he gave honest answers that most fans would give you. ‘œI remember one time under Houllier when John Arne Riise approached the half way line and all of a sudden stopped ‘“ because he was told he couldn’t go over the half way line. Now that’s not football ‘˜cos you’ve got to be able to use your head and if you want to attack go and attack, somebody else has got to cover for you.’
‘œNow, with Benitez, you see players getting forward outside the wingers, the full backs are getting forward, we’re creating chances and we’re playing better football as well, that’s good to watch.’
‘œBut they still haven’t got two players in every position like (Jose) Mourhino has, but they’re getting there. And the thing I like about Benitez is, he’s like Alex Ferguson, if he signs a dud player he’s very very quick to get rid of ‘˜em! Like Nunez, like Josemi.’
Throughout the interview Whelan spoke with great affection for Liverpool the club, the city and people.