Reds from the Past – Ronny Rosenthal
In my first article for www.americanscouser.com from a few weeks ago, I had mentioned that Liverpool’s ability to pick out diamonds in the rough, from countries that weren’t the traditional powerhouses of the game, were a big part of what drew me to the club. Liverpool FC were never shy of bringing and developing talented players from as far and wide as Jamaica to Zimbabwe to Australia. Israeli International Ronny Rosenthal was one of those players, and he instantly became one of my favorite, but overlooked, Reds.
Entrance sans fanfare
Rosenthal arrived at Anfield on loan from Belgium’s Standard Liege during the 1989-90 season. His timing could not have been better because he was the perfect shot of adrenaline to ensure that Liverpool won that last title before the 3 decade long English championship drought that would follow. Back in those days, there were no viral videos to educate fans on the talent that played outside of England, Spain, Italy and maybe Germany. So, until that point, Ronny had pretty much been under the radar despite enjoying a solid career in the Belgian League and for the Israeli national team. A fact that is rarely remembered outside of his native country is that he and several others took the underdog footballing nation to the brink of qualifying for the 1990 World Cup to be hosted by Italy. It took an upcoming Colombian team to stop Israel in the playoff for that spot, and there is definitely no shame in that.
The manager for LFC at the time, arguably the greatest Red of all, Kenny Dalglish brought him on to join a highly competitive and logjammed squad of strikers. The fact that he was able to make an impact, on short notice, in a completely different country and in one of the most competitive leagues in Europe, and on the home stretch of the title race says a lot about his mental fortitude and preparedness. At the time, with Liverpool spoilt for choice with the likes of Ian Rush, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, I knew very little about Ronny and, as a young kid who only looked at what appeared on his TV screen, Ronny was not the first player that I was completely ignorant about. I am sure many other Liverpool supporters would share that feeling as well.
Imagine making your Liverpool debut with 8 games left in the season, and scoring not just a hat-trick, but what football pundits refer to as a “Perfect Hat-trick”. In Ronny’s own words, as taken from www.lfchistory.net , “Kenny was disappointed with Peter Beardsley and told me an hour before the game I’d be playing. After 10 minutes I scored with my right foot, then again immediately after half-time with my left and finally with my head after combining with John Barnes. The perfect hat-trick, I believe they call it.”
If Ronny’s Liverpool debut could be compared to an athlete in any other sport, it would be with Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson who played for the Detroit Pistons in Mid 80s and Early 90s. Johnson had a penchant to come off the bench and score huge points in the fourth quarter of the game, and he earned his nickname because he tended to “get hot in a hurry” or score a lot quickly in a short span of time.
He was a really good player to watch because you could see that he really wanted to make an impact even with the few and far between opportunities that came his way. He was built like a boxer and ran with a full head of steam, so he had the unique combination of both strength and speed. This helped get a step on defenders and outmuscle them if evading them was not an option. His granite-like face and receding hairline made him look like Bruce Willis was trying his hand at a second career playing football.
Rosenthal went on to score another 4 goals in the remaining six games and help Liverpool win the 1989-90 English championship. The cruel irony of this is that he was not eligible to receive a winner’s medal because he did not play the minimum number of games to qualify for one.
In many ways, Ronny was emblematic of the nation he came from. He was a mystery to many football pundits and was underestimated, and yet he used his limited appearances to make maximum impact on both his team and the opposition. The Israeli people were well-known for not letting their arid land and challenging geography overcome them. Their agricultural innovations and commitment to internal security have made them top all development indices in their region. Such industriousness is only possible through a strong work ethic and relentless commitment. Ronny had both of those in generous amounts.
His performance in those 8 games were good enough for him to seal a permanent move to Anfield, and so began a journey that rose and dipped for both the player and the club. But that had more to do with King Kenny’s fixation with bringing in strikers than with Ronny’s talent or dedication.
Highs and Lows
Liverpool’s man-management of Rosenthal can be described as disjointed, at best. Throughout his 3 and a half seasons with the club, he would be on the losing end of competition for the starting spot to two giants of the club in Rush and Beardsley. It was also mind-boggling to see Ronny miss out on playing time to the likes of Dean Saunders and Paul Stewart, who were both transfer market blunders. His first full season saw him score 5 goals in 16 games. The start to his career also coincided with the start of the club’s 30 year long wait for a title. But, unlike many more prominent players to wear the shirt, he did leave Liverpool with some honors in the 1991 FA Cup final (though he did not play in that final) and the Community Shield.
The highlight of his career, in my eyes, would have to be, in typical irony, his last goal for the club in the Merseyside Derby at home in the 93-94 season. He is remembered as a Derby hero for scoring the last and winning goal in front of the Spion Kop (New league rules stated that all standing terraces would be taken down and replaced with sitting sections) at Anfield. Once again, Ronny had etched his name in history despite being subbed in at the 74th minute of a scoreless game.
Most would, of course, remember him for his embarrassing miss at an open goal in the 1992-93 season during a loss to Aston Villa. But for me, that was something that was not the first time a player has missed an open goal and it will not be the last. So, it should not be the defining moment of Ronny’s underrated career.
Ronny went on to put in decent stints for both Tottenham Hotspur and after his career at Liverpool ended in 1994. His time at Watford was the finale of a fruitful and decent career of 9 years in the English top flight. Couple that with his 60 appearances over 14-year span for the Israeli national team and that is a resume that is solid in every way. His work ethic and Liverpool’s willingness to take a chance on a largely unknown player from the far side of the world both contributed to his success as a footballer.