Ex-Liverpool defender Ruddock on playing for Klopp: 'I'd have been a rascal, but he'd have liked me'
You couldn’t miss Neil Ruddock. Not even if he was standing at a random corner on the edge of the National Stadium compound having a smoke next to a litter bin.
Decked in white polo tee, bermudas and a protruding belly, you’d be inclined to think he was just another Liverpool fan that showed up early to the Singapore Sports Hub to catch the Reds in a training session last Thursday (July 14).
One fan, however, notices the former Liverpool defender, now 54, with greyed hair and beard. “Mr Ruddock, can I get a photo please?”
Ruddock obliges, concealing his menthol cigarette at the side as he puts a hand on the fan’s shoulder and poses for the iphone. (One of the definitive hard men of English football in the 90s smoking menthols – who’d have thought?)
The fan, seemingly in his late 40s, would have remembered Ruddock from his playing days: The bruising aerial battles he had with opposing centre forwards, the dramatic, last-gasp equaliser against Manchester United in a 3-3 draw at Anfield in 1994.
Perhaps even that hilarious encounter with Eric Cantona.
Moments before, during a sit-down interview, Ruddock had regaled TNP with an account of the incident. It was during a classic match from 1995 at Old Trafford between Liverpool and their hated rivals United that ended 2-2.
The match is perhaps best remembered for Cantona’s return after a lengthy suspension following his infamous kung-fu kick to a fan.
In an attempt to wind up the Frenchman, ‘Razor’ Ruddock turned down Cantona’s popped-up collar on the pitch, sparking a tense exchange between the two.
“He said he wanted to fight me. After the game, in the tunnel, he was even looking for me, but I hid behind David James,” Ruddock said with a chuckle.
“In the end, it was alright; we had a pint and he called me ‘crazy’.”
Ruddock, who also played for Tottenham and West Ham before retiring in 2003, added: “Back then it was Cantona, (Dennis) Bergkamp and (Gianfranco) Zola. When you played against these guys, you had to put them off their game as much as possible.
“Some managers would even tell you to kick them – but I didn’t want to wind them up too much. In the United game, Cantona got his own back. He scored the equalising penalty in Fergie time.
“The thing about Cantona, I first played against him when he was at Leeds and I was at Tottenham, back when no one had even heard of him.
“He scored three against us that day. So I made him, really.”
A tall, uncompromising centre half during his playing days, Ruddock spent four full seasons at Merseyside (from 1993 to 1997) playing under Graeme Souness and later Roy Evans. He made around 150 appearances for the Reds and helped them to the League Cup in 1995.
Later in his career, he played under Harry Redknapp in a talented West Ham side that featured a young Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and the mercurial Paolo di Canio.
He also donned England’s colours once in 1994, when Terry Venables – his favourite manager and whom he played for at Spurs – was in charge.
Ruddock would tell you now, though, that if he could still lace up his boots, he’d love to play for current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
“I love to see managers get excited. ‘Show your emotion’ I always say – the fans and players want to see it.
“(Klopp) would have liked me, we would’ve got on,” he said before pausing.
“Ok, maybe it would have been a love-hate sort of thing; I’d be a bit of a rascal. But I wouldn’t have complained either way if I was making 400,000 pounds a week.”
Ruddock, like many others, is also a big fan of Klopp’s tactical approach. Though Liverpool missed out on a historic quadruple last season, he insists the Reds are playing under the right philosophy.
“Critics will say he’s only got one tactic. But the tactic is so good, you’re going to get chances no matter who you’re up against. That’s Klopp.
“And his man management is second to none. Look at (Roberto) Firmino: he didn’t play much last season, but you never heard anything about that. He didn’t complain publicly or ask to leave. That’s man management.”
Looking ahead, he tips Liverpool for the title in the 2022/23 season – primarily because, for champions Manchester City, it’s “always hard to retain the Premiership”.
“It’ll come down to injuries, which people don’t talk about, like when we lost (Virgil) van Dijk for most of the season that one year.
“It’s the same for United if they lose David De Gea, or if Spurs lose (Harry) Kane or Son (Heung-Min).
“Down the other end, I fear for Everton and Leeds. I really do.”
5 quick-fire questions with Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock:
Best goal: The 3-3, has to be. (Ruddock completed a stunning Liverpool comeback with a powerful header 11 minutes from time at Old Trafford in January 1994).
Most hated opponent: I think it was Cantona. I had some good clashes with him.
Favourite moment for Liverpool: The day I signed for them.
Favourite teammate: Jason McAteer. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but a funny guy.
If I weren’t a footballer, I’d be… a reporter for The New Paper in Singapore. Print that (laughs).