CULT heroes are difficult to discuss. Everyone has their own definition. “He’s not a cult hero, he’s a legend”.“He played too many games.”
I suspect that’s why my editor is cackling like Dr Claw from Inspector Gadget. But I’m game. Over the next five weeks, I’m writing about my five favourite cult heroes during my time as a match-goer. True cult heroes should have grabbed you and gripped you in the moment, not from tales performed in the past.
5. Ronny Rosenthal
Rocket Ronny was so much more than a mad miss at Villa Park. Yet mention his name and that’s likely the first response you’ll get. In case you missed it like Ronny did in 1992, the Israeli striker latched onto a punt from David James, rounded Nigel Spink and, with the goal open mouthed, waiting to gobble up a ball, Rosenthal somehow hit the crossbar.
A perpetual place on blooper videos followed – it was even once crowned miss of the century. But those that lived Ronny’s 97 appearances and 22 goals for the Reds have fonder memories. Signed on loan aged 26 from Standard Liege, he burst onto the scene at the back end of the last title-winning season in 1990.
With number nine on his back, seizing an opportunity away to Charlton Athletic with the prolific Ian Rush crocked, Ronny got stuck in on his first start, all pace, directness, and a general sense he didn’t care – about team-mates, opposition, anything really. He just fancied scoring.
Bedecked in silver and red, he kicked off with a hat-trick on his full debut – right foot, left foot, header. He could have scored six. “The Rocket” was flying, and Kenny Dalglish quipped after the game: “I won't be racing against Ronny in training.''
Rosenthal burned brightly and helped a listless Liverpool over the line for title number 18, scoring seven goals in eight games. His arrival had conicided with some doubts about Dalglish’s side, not least following a shock FA Cup defeat to Crystal Palace. A bit of Rocket fuel did the job.
Look again at those pictures from another age from the now infamous game against QPR at Anfield when the last title was clinched. There’s Ronny, flanking Rushie in the changing rooms, holding the trophy aloft on the pitch.
The Israel international’s efforts were rewarded with a permanent deal in June 1990 as the Reds made him the first foreign player bought by an English club for more than £1m. But, as Rush returned, Peter Beardsley hit form in his final season and John Barnes was also regularly in the goals, Rosenthal’s role soon shifted.
That wasn’t to say it was all over. His all-action, head-down, sprint for the goal-style was still on show from time to time. There was a December double against Southampton that teed up Ray Houghton to win a cracking match 3-2 at the end of 1990 for starters. But Ronny managed just three goals in 27 appearances (nine starts) in 91-92 and seven in 36 (20 starts) in 92-93.
Telling though, was that he had a song. Some players can get through a spell at Anfield without truly experiencing their name ringing around the stadium. Sometimes we feel something. Sometimes we don’t. With Ronny, we did. He was always game. He was always up for it. And that’s always a good start. That went a long way towards the Kop regularly singing: “Ronny, Oh Ronny Ronny, Oh Ronny Ronny, Oh Ronny Rosenthal, hey!”.
Bought by Dalglish, Rosenthal was now managed by Graeme Souness. But unlike David Speedie and Beardsley, among others, he was allowed to stick around. There was a double at Anfield in November 1992 in a 4-1 win over Middlesbrough and Ronny also scored the winner away at QPR that month (a first away win since January).
A November to remember continued with a goal in a 5-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Anfield but then Ronny’s run was done. His name was missing from the scoresheets for four months. It looked that could be that, but there was one last light of the fuse – in the Anfield derby the following March.
After Toffee turkey Stuart Barlow had left the Kop cracking up for spooning a sitter at the other end, Rosenthal, on as a sub for Steve McManaman, got his chance. And like so many times before, he proved he had a knack for finding his level in seconds when beckoned from the bench.
Barnes found Rush, Rush found Rosenthal, Ronny did the rest. Neville Southall, with hands on hips, was raging in the Everton goal. The Reds, with hands held high, were rabid right behind him on the Kop. The song rang out once more.
It proved to be Ronny’s last goal for Liverpool. Ten more appearances followed, only three starts. It looked like the fuse might be burnt. But as sign off goals go, that wasn’t bad. Rosenthal was the last substitute to score in front of the standing Kop – and that was his only Merseyside Derby goal. His final appearance came in October 1993, as a substitute of course, and he left the club for Spurs in January 1994.
He was erratic, unpredictable, and an unknown quantity that bamboozled opponents at his best. A million pound player with a full debut hat-trick at one end of his Liverpool career and a delicious Derby decider at the other.
It’s not bad, is it?