Souness: 'In my generation if you had a bad game you got criticised in the press'

Graeme Souness talks in much the same way he tackled. There is no room for niceties as he speaks.

Souness: 'In my generation if you had a bad game you got criticised in the press'

Graeme Souness talks in much the same way he tackled. There is no room for niceties as he speaks. Answers are delivered with emphasis and conviction, sometimes scything through the bones of a question before it can find its feet.

Diagnosed with heart disease almost thirty years ago, he underwent a triple bypass operation and suffered a heart attack in 2015 and yet he is the picture of health as he moves through his 67th year.

A familiar figure on Irish TV as a pundit with Virgin Media, he is remarkably trim, the tailored shirt and suit trousers he sports earlier this week sitting immaculately on his frame as he looked forward and back over a life in football.

The Scot has been a canny signing by the Ballymount outfit. Intense and knowledgable, he doesn't suffer fools gladly and the unapologetic simplicity of some of his punditry hits the spot in that it polarises opinion down the middle.

There are those who adore this no-nonsense, old-school approach.

Others roll their eyes to heaven or scream blue murder at the screen in accusation of a man who they say is living in the past and too dismissive of the modern game and ways.

In town from earlier this week to preview both European finals, it was inevitable that talk should turn back to his formative days as a schoolboy with Spurs and his pomp with Liverpool with whom he won five league titles and three European Cups.

It's clear that he rates Jurgen Klopp and this Liverpool team highly though Souness has no doubt but that his own vintage would see off the current crop – as long as the game was officiated by the standards of his own generation.

The reasoning is simple: Liverpool of old could mix it with the most physical of English sides on a Saturday and then outplay Europe's finest the following Wednesday. Today's players? Cosseted by a game that is all but non-contact.

Other aspects of the modern game irk him besides.

Players today are left off the hook. They don't accept any responsibility. In my generation if you had a bad game you got criticised in the press. Today the manager gets it for his tactics, the team he picked, his substitutions, his preparation.

“The players get off scot-free today and it's nothing to do with the players. It's all to do with the formations and the substitutions (the manager) didn't make. It's bollocks. You prepare the players, they go out and don't do the business. That happens.”

It's a philosophy honed from his beginnings with Liverpool. A record English transfer having arrived from Middlesbrough, he found himself in the dressing-room with 15 minutes to go to his debut against West Bromwich Albion and totally in the dark.

No-one had said a word to him by then, though he'd been at the club a week, but when he approached Joe Fagan how the manager wanted him to play the response from such a quietly-spoken man was extraordinary.

“He said: 'Fuck off' in a loud voice. “We have spent all this money on you and you are asking me how to play football?' Imagine saying that to a player today. And I never asked another question.

So don't talk to him about tactics and formations before Saturday's final in Madrid. For Souness, the sums are simple: if the team with the better players turns up then they win the game eight times out of ten.

Not that turning up isn't an ask in itself.

Earlier this month, the Scot took in the first versus second Turkish Super Lig clash between his old club Galatasaray and İstanbul Başakşehir. Though the bigger club, Galatasaray fell behind after a slow start but won 2-1.

Such false starts just can't be accommodated in continental cup finals, he said. He may be right. Sift through the three European Cups he won with Liverpool and you'll find that they didn't fall behind in any of them.

“Turning up on the night (is key). Not getting caught up in the moment. Starting well. Don’t hand the initiative to the opposition. They preached that to us in every cup final we played: start well.”

Klopp's Liverpool learned as much last year and Souness believes their defeat to Real Madrid was as much to do with their own shortcomings as Mo Salah's injury or Loris Karius' misfortunes.

He'd clearly like to see them make amends. Spurs were his first professional club but his leanings are obvious given he uses 'we' when speaking of a Liverpool team which he believes will not have it all its own way .

Souness was at Anfield for Tottenham's last two visits and left impressed with how they handled the hosts both times. And part of him can't help but feel that fate could side with a team with 19 losses on their CV this term.

Fortune has favoured Tottenham at times and he fears it may again but he believes implicitly that Liverpool under Klopp are destined to win silverware regardless of tomorrow's outcome.

“No-one can deny that Liverpool are improving every season. Klopp came to speak to us when he was on the touchline at Cardiff a few weeks back and I said to him that it will be only a matter of time before you start winning trophies with this team.

“He was never going to say, ‘oh yes you are right’, but it’s inevitable that this team will start winning the big trophies with this team. They only lost one game all season in the Premier League at Man City.

“It was a game I was at and it should have been a draw. It’s a matter of time because this is a fabulous Liverpool team. If they come out second best, there should be no criticism for Klopp. Sometimes lady luck deserts you on these big nights.”

More in this section

IE_180_logo
Price info

Subscribe to unlock unlimited digital access.
Cancel anytime.

Terms and conditions apply

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox