Graeme Souness: Winning the League says more about you as a man than European Cup

Graeme Souness is well qualified to consider the weight of glory. Take it in his hands, appraise it, assess the purity, give you a valuation. He played in five of Liverpool’s 18 title wins, lifted three of the six European Cups.
Graeme Souness: Winning the League says more about you as a man than European Cup

A mural of Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold near Anfield in Liverpool. Graeme Souness says he won’t be probably won’t be at Anfield for Sky Sports to see the young star lift the Premier League trophy, should Liverpool win it there. It’ll be Jamie Carragher, “or Gary Neville. He’ll love going to Anfield for that ...”.	 Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
A mural of Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold near Anfield in Liverpool. Graeme Souness says he won’t be probably won’t be at Anfield for Sky Sports to see the young star lift the Premier League trophy, should Liverpool win it there. It’ll be Jamie Carragher, “or Gary Neville. He’ll love going to Anfield for that ...”. Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

Graeme Souness is well qualified to consider the weight of glory. Take it in his hands, appraise it, assess the purity, give you a valuation. He played in five of Liverpool’s 18 title wins, lifted three of the six European Cups.

The modern Reds may be denied a traditional party this week, or next. But in Souness’s eyes, they come of age.

“The way I had been brought up at Liverpool, they taught me that winning the league meant so much more than winning a cup after eight or 10 games. It said more about you as a man, more about you as a player, it said more about the character you had within the dressing room.

“Win the European Cup, it’s that night. Yeah, big capital city as it was when we won it. Great night, you’re with your mates, you get properly pissed, or don't because you’re that high anyway. Special times, but winning the league says more about you.

“Because it’s been over a long hard nine months, two games a week, a lot of the time. You've been together at the tough times, weathered the storms together. Long hard grind.

“You reflect on how you came through that, got away with that. It’s not about the final whistle. It’s not about getting the trophy. I took a personal pride. I got far more enjoyment winning the league.”

No, it won’t be emotional when the 30-year wait ends, he says. He probably won’t be there for Sky. It’ll be Carra. “Or Gary Neville. He’ll love going to Anfield for that.” There seems to be a certain distance, 400km away on England's south coast. Maybe some scars, but joy nonetheless.

“I’ll be delighted for everyone connected with the football club. I know what that feeling is like if you’re a player. I’m sure it’s still the same.

“For the last dozen years I’ve been on the pitch for the last game when the team wins the league. And I know it’s a great day. The sun is shining, it’s a festival.

“You want to get in among your mates with a bottle of champagne in your hand, or two bottles in some cases. I’m sad for Liverpool that they won’t have that day. I’m sad the lads won’t experience that because it’s quite a unique thing.”

It’s natural that a man who helped shape a dynasty is sizing up how they handle it. What’s next?

“I remember we won the league with five/six games to go in Bob Paisley’s last year, and we got in our armchairs and we couldn’t win after that.

“You come back, first week of training, you go to Melwood, two sessions a day. Towards the end of the first week or start of the second week and the cardboard box… Ronnie Moran would put it on the massage table in the home dressing room at Anfield and he would say, ‘there’s medals in that box for some of those who feel they deserve one’.

“And he’d walk out and count to six and then he’d pop his head back round. And he’d say, ‘and by the fucking way, you get nothing this year for what’s in that box and that’s a reminder that our season starts now’.”

Timo Werner, he thought, would have been a textbook Anfield reminder to anyone sitting on laurels.

“It would appear they followed him for a long time. You would think that deal had been done. For Liverpool to pull out, I find it strange. Because they are in a good place financially. The little I’ve seen of him, he’s looked fabulous.”

Whoever arrives will, he expects, serve a Klopp apprenticeship.

“Robertson didn’t get in the team for a year. Fabinho didn’t get in the team for six, eight months. That’s where Liverpool are right now. They're in a great position where they can bring in a player and say, ‘have a look at it, this is what we do here’. Man United under Fergie had that.”

At Anfield, Souness broke that mould, he and the King.

“They bought Terry McDermott and Ray Kennedy, big players. They didn’t go straight in the team, They sat for six months, best part of a season. It was only Kenny and I in that period, that went straight into the team.”

He talks on Zoom from that magnificent sitting room you’ve probably seen on Sky Sports. Like the interior of a luxury yacht, its midfield general serenely moored in lockdown.

“I’ve been in football a long time and I didn’t think I’d miss it that much. First couple of weeks, the novelty of being in lockdown, and the drama, and the sadness attached to the pandemic grabbed your focus. But after, for maybe three or four weeks, I was really missing the football.

“Once I’d done my favourites on Netflix, I watched a couple of the European Cup finals. I’d not go searching for games I played in, but if I happened to be flicking the channels I’d watch it.”

Red reverie runs into green.

“Ronnie Whelan, I saw him as a young man coming into the team, slightly feeling he didn’t belong at that time. And I watched him grow into the most fabulous footballer. In terms of understanding the game, being cute, and a really talented and, in my eyes, a very important footballer for Liverpool. He quickly got what being a Liverpool player was about, for someone so young.

“And Ronnie had a steeliness about him that maybe you wouldn’t talk about. Ronnie could look after himself. Big time. No one messed with him.”

When he relived that special night in Rome in 1984, his eye was drawn to Lawro.

“That partnership with Alan Hansen, if you remember the players they were playing against for Roma, the strikers, they never gave them a kick in 90 minutes plus extra-time.

“Mark Lawrenson was the outstanding defender of the day. Alan Hansen was silky and caught the eye because he was so good on the ball. But for an out-and-out defender, lightning quick, very aggressive, read danger early, he was as good as anyone. I would say Mark Lawrenson would get in any Premier League team today.”

There’s a final word for his old pal from the RTÉ panel. Naming Souness in his all-time Scotland team lately, on Off The Ball, John Giles recalled a couple of fierce battles, as Gilesy neared the end, while Souness began to carve a fearsome reputation at Middlesbrough.

“I can remember it vividly. He was an absolute rascal.

“It’s no longer there, but I could take you onto Ayresome Park, by the corner flag. Someone’s played a short corner to me, and as I’ve played it first time, I didn’t know he was on my shoulder and he’s just gone, ‘eh, have some of that’. His six studs, a real stinger.

“Apart from being someone who could very much look after himself, he was a top performer. A master craftsman. You know, proper player. But a nasty little bastard.”

It’s said with affection and a smile.

“I say to people, there's three players I never laid a finger on, in my career. In those days, it was part of my job, because I was big for a midfield player. One was Zico. Too cute, had a radar. Another one was Alan Ball and I’ve got to throw Johnny Giles into that as well.

“I caught (Billy) Bremner a few times but could never lay a finger on Johnny. And he reminds me.”

Graeme Souness is a Sky Sports analyst. Sky Sports will show 64 matches – 39 exclusive to subscribers and an extra 25 available more widely on Sky One. Premier League action returns with a double-header on 17 June.

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