When Ian Rush was asked to play on the right side of Leeds United’s midfield after George Graham replaced Howard Wilkinson, the Liverpool legend knew he was in trouble.
Rush, then 34, had moved to Elland Road in the summer of 1996 at the end of a glorious Anfield career that garnered a club record of 346 goals in two spells.
The former Wales striker rejected offers from Sunderland and Manchester City to join Leeds on a two-year deal with the lure of being groomed as Wilkinson’s eventual successor.
Ian Rush joined Leeds after a glorious second spell at Liverpool, breaking records
However, his time at Elland Road dwindled after George Graham replaced Howard Wilkinson
The plan backfired, however, when ‘Sergeant Wilko’ was sacked just five games into the season and replaced by Graham, the uncompromising ex-Arsenal boss.
Rush recalled: “Howard was an incredibly smart manager, leading Leeds United to the First Division title in 1992.
“He had extremely high standards and was tactically excellent, so the idea of playing under Howard and becoming his protégé really appealed to me.
“The plan was to play in Leeds for two years, work towards my UEFA Pro license and – if all went well – Howard would move up and I would take over as manager.
That was the intention, but everything changed completely when he was sacked in September 1996 after a 4-0 home defeat to Manchester United.
“New owners had come into Leeds and although I only worked with Howard for three months, I learned so much in that time and was devastated when he left.
“Howard had made me captain, but George Graham came in and we didn’t see each other.
“George wanted myself and a few other players to build a new, younger team and he made David O’Leary his assistant.
“When I was asked to play in midfield, I thought George thought I wouldn’t do it.
Rush thinks he could have helped younger players like Paul Robinson (pictured) had he stayed
“I was professional enough to do that, but with my experience I wasn’t happy with the way it was done.
“I think I could have helped the youngsters in Leeds – fantastic prospects like Ian Harte, Harry Kewell, Paul Robinson and Jonathan Woodgate – if George had allowed me to stay.”
In the 1997-98 preseason, Leeds went on tour and Graham left Rush, Tomas Brolin, Tony Dorigo, Carlton Palmer and Tony Yeboah back in Yorkshire.
Rush was then reunited with Kenny Dalglish at Newcastle, adding: “I only scored three goals for Leeds, but not once did the fans get behind me because they knew I was doing my best. They loved it when I scored against Chelsea.”
Rush is delighted that Leeds is finally back and that he will be at Elland Road on Sunday.
The 59-year-old added: “Leeds is and always will be a great club, with fantastic supporters who deserve to play in the Premier League.
Rush expects goals at Elland Road after a handsome 4-3 at Anfield on the first day of last season
“Last season they finished ninth and I was at Anfield when they gave Liverpool a brilliant game.
“Any team going to Elland Road will be in for a great game and I expect goals this weekend as neither team will change the way they play.
“Hopefully everyone can go home after that, regardless of the score, and say ‘that was a great football game’. I think there is every possibility that that will happen.’
Rush believes Jurgen Klopp’s side can emerge as a title contender this season, adding: “Manchester City are clearly the team to beat.
Liverpool are the underdog but they love that and having Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk back fit is like signing three new players.
“If they can stay fit, there’s no reason Liverpool can’t fight for the title.
Rush admits Manchester City are title favourites, but thinks The Reds can still challenge
“I know the owner of Leeds, Andrea Radrizzani, and they will be watching Europe in the coming seasons.
“You have the four best teams, but there will always be a surprise somewhere – why not in Leeds?
“Patrick Bamford had an excellent season last year and I appreciate him very much. Not only has he scored goals in the Premier League, but his pace of work is fantastic.
“He’s exactly the kind of player Marcelo Bielsa likes when he puts pressure on the opponent.
“Defenders like to think they can play and will not kick the ball into the stands anymore.
“I would have loved to play now because I would always score – and most of my assists would probably come from opposing defenders!”
Klopp recently confirmed that Liverpool are in talks to extend Mohamed Salah’s contract, which runs for less than two years.
Rush praised Patrick Bamford and said he would love to play against modern defenders
The 29-year-old Egyptian striker is already one of the highest earners at Anfield and a new deal would make him the highest paid player in the club’s history.
Rush added: “Everyone wants Salah to stay and I think there’s a good chance he will because if he goes elsewhere he won’t get the support he’s getting now.
“Other supporters may like him, but Liverpool fans love him and that could be a deciding factor.”