TWENTY four years ago today, Ronny Rosenthal started his first game for Liverpool, coming into the team for the injured Ian Rush to face Charlton Athletic at Selhurst Park. The Israeli international, who initially arrived on loan from Standard Liege, scored a hat-trick as the Reds ran out 4-0 winners to maintain a three-point lead at the top of the league.
ANFIELD can get cold. Very cold. As the crow flies, it’s just over two miles from the River Mersey, so that’s no real surprise. It feels even colder when Liverpool are losing – the temperature bites that little bit more, the clock ticks that bit faster.
That cold, and the ticking clock are a big part of my memories of Ronny Rosenthal. November 24, 1990 was cold. We faced Peter Reid’s Manchester City. Then, like now, we expected to win at Anfield, no matter who the opposition were, especially as we were the defending champions.
I was only two months into my apprenticeship as a matchgoing Red, but I was already sold – watching players like John Barnes, Ian Rush and Peter Beardsley in the flesh, it was hard not to be. We’d have too much for City. Or so I thought. This though, wasn’t a classic Liverpool performance.
City – with five ex-Evertonians in the side in Reid, Neil Pointon, Adrian Heath, Gary Megson and Mark Ward, had the majority of the chances. Liverpool had struggled to shackle 6ft 4in beanpole striker Niall Quinn. City had hit a post and had a penalty shout waved away.
Quinn had missed two further presentable opportunities. So it was no surprise when the goal did arrive just after the hour mark. Bruce Grobbelaar had pulled off his trademark acrobatics to claw away a Quinn header, but from the rebound Ward was hauled down for a clear penalty and the Prescot-born midfielder tucked away the spot kick to give City a deserved lead.
Liverpool stepped it up, and Barnes – wearing gloves and tights to stave off the aforementioned cold weather – began to turn on the style. Beardsley was unlucky from distance, a Ray Houghton snapshot flew just wide.
Barnes, bobbed and weaved down the left as Liverpool turned the screw, but still City held out as Ian Rush’s six-yard shot was blocked. Eventually the goal came.
Beardsley flighted a corner from the right towards the Kop goal, Glen Hysen headed down and Barnes fired a swivelled volley towards goal and Rush, sharp as ever, directed the shot in the opposite direction with a falling header to leave Andy Dibble pleading for an infringement that didn’t exist.
Then came Rocket Ronny.
Always direct, never afraid to dribble. Bad barnet, quick feet. Suddenly, the ball ping-ponged around from a serious of headers and he was through. A controlled header put him clear of the City defence and out charged City keeper Dibble, arms sprawled.
Rosenthal simply chipped him left-footed from 16 yards, the ball bouncing in the net as Ronny did similar in front of the Kop. In the six minutes Rosenthal had been on the pitch Liverpool had scored two goals. That warms you up on any winter’s day.
With four minutes to go, surely now Liverpool would hang on for the win. Unfortunately, Quinn hadn’t read the script. His header from the Annie Road penalty spot scraped a point for City in injury time, his header looping over Houghton on the line. City had escaped with a point, but it wasn’t for the want of trying on Rosenthal’s behalf. And that’s why I liked him – he tried. He’d run at defenders, shoot from all angles, put himself about. The fella looked like he was enjoying himself.
He was the perfect player to bring on as a substitute – and that was perhaps why 56 of his 97 Liverpool appearances came from the bench. That said, he wasn’t the worst starter either, and shouldn’t just be remembered as a super sub – 18 of his 22 goals for Liverpool were from games he started in.
Rosenthal is best remembered to the wider world for *that* miss against Aston Villa in 1992 – through on goal, no-one around him, he struck the bar to forever guarantee his place in those ‘worst miss of all time’ lists and provide golden footage for supermarket bargain bucket DVDs fronted by failed comedians. The Israeli’s finishing could be erratic. It could also be brilliant. That was Ronny.
He wasn’t exactly a team player. He had a touch of the Milan Baros about him in that the head went down, the legs started motoring, and we all held our breath and wondered where it would end up. That peripheral vision that truly great players are said to have – Ronny didn’t have that. But he doesn’t deserve to be remembered solely for missing an open goal.
Instead, he should lauded for playing a key part in putting No.18 in the Anfield trophy cabinet. On his first start after arriving on loan from Standard Liege Ronny rattled in a perfect hat-trick as Charlton were put to the sword at Selhurst Park – right foot, left foot, header –BOOM – he’d arrived. The Rocket went on to bang in seven goals in eight games of 89-90, giving Liverpool the perfect boost as they lifted the title.
Rosenthal signed a permanent deal for Liverpool in June 1990 as the Reds handed over £1.1million to the Belgians for his services. He was the first foreign player bought by an English club for more than £1m. The end of the previous season proved to be his purple patch for the Reds, but there were other highlights that had the Kop singing: “Ronny, Oh Ronny Ronny, Oh Ronny Ronny, Oh Ronny Rosenthal, hey!”.
There was a December double against Southampton at Anfield that teed up Ray Houghton to win a cracker 3-2 at the end of 1990 but Ronnie managed just three goals in 27 appearances (nine starts) in 91-92 and seven in 36 (20 starts) in 92-93.
A double at Anfield in November 1992 in a 4-1 win over Middlesbrough suggested a return to form, and Ronny also bagged the winner away at QPR that month (the Reds’ first away win since January). His November streak continued with a goal in the 5-0 routing of Crystal Palace at Anfield but then there was nothing to trouble the scoresheets for four months.
The next goal was a bit special though – in the Anfield derby the following March. After Stuart Barlow had left the Kop in stitches when he missed a sitter at the other end, Rosenthal, on as a sub for Steve McManaman, finally got a sniff of a chance in injury time.
Barnes found Rush, Rush found Rosenthal – goal, and in front of the Kop. Last minute, Kop, the derby….Ronny – you’ve GOT to love him.
That, in fact, proved to be Rocket Ronny’s last goal for the club. His final appearance came in October 1993, and he left the club in January 1994, joining Spurs for £250,000.
Ronny’s since spoke fondly of his time at Liverpool, not least because his son, Dean, was born in the city. We should speak fondly of him too, and not just remember that bloody miss…
Pics: PA Archive