by Chris Wood
Whelan was born into a family of footballers from Dublin, Ireland; his father, Ronnie Whelan Senior, was an Irish international and a key member of the successful St Patrick's Athletic side of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Ronnie Junior was a skilful and industrious midfield player, signed for Liverpool by Bob Paisley for a bargain £35,000 from Dublin club Home Farm F.C. on 19 September 1979, a few days before his 18th birthday and made his debut 18 months later, on the 3 April 1981, scoring his first goal in the 27th minute of the 3-0 league win over Stoke City at Anfield. This would be Whelan's one and only appearance of the season for the first team, as Whelan spent much of his first few months at the club in the reserves.
The gifted successor to Ray Kennedy on the left flank of Liverpool's midfield, Whelan made a massive contribution to the club's majestic triumphs under Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish in the 1980's winning six League title medals, three FA Cup, a European Cup and three Milk Cup medals.
Liverpool's trophyless season, culminating in the disaster at Heysel, in 1985 was followed by a much more successful season for Whelan and Liverpool, under the new management of Kenny Dalglish. Liverpool clinched another League title and added the FA Cup, with Whelan setting up two of the goals in a 3-1 victory over Merseyside rivals Everton, the first time the two had met in a cup final, also it was only the third League and FA Cup "double" of the 20th century.
Liverpool ended the following 1987 season trophyless, losing the League Cup final to Arsenal. The following year, Whelan switched to a central role following the arrival of England winger John Barnes at Anfield.
This season saw Liverpool play an exciting brand of football and they won both the league title and FA Cup, although Whelan missed out on the cup final as Nigel Spackman, who had won his place in the team when Whelan was injured earlier in the season was chosen ahead of him. Whelan's name and profile was even left out of the official match programme at Wembley for the FA Cup final against Wimbledon, which Liverpool lost 1-0.
An injury to club captain Alan Hansen meant that Whelan spent much of the 1988/89 season as captain of Liverpool, a role he relished as the club progressed to another challenge for a "double". Then the Hillsborough disaster happened, and Whelan played a key role in leading the team on and off the pitch in a difficult time.
When Hansen recovered, Whelan maintained the captaincy for continuity purposes and it was he who lifted the FA Cup after a 3-2 win over derby rivals Everton. However, he missed the chance to do the same with the League title, with Arsenal taking the championship thanks to a last-minute goal from Michael Thomas.
Liverpool won the League again in 1990 but Whelan's role in the side was diminishing, mainly through a spate of injuries. He stayed at Liverpool until 1994 but an example of his bad luck came in 1992 when he scored the crucial equaliser against Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final, forcing a replay which Liverpool won on penalties, but missed the final against Sunderland, in which Liverpool triumphed 2-0, because of injury.
On his departure from Anfield, Whelan became manager of Southend United and also worked with clubs in Greece such as Panionios and in Cyprus such as Apollon Limassol but most notably with Olympiakos Nicosia.
His greatest success as a manager, was with Panionios in 1999, when his team reached for first time the quarter finals of a European competition, the Cup Winners Cup, when they were eliminated by SS Lazio with 0-4 and 0-3. He now works on the after-dinner circuit and does a spot of punditry.