After two years as a player with Sampdoria in Italy following his departure from Anfield in 1984, Graeme Souness moved back to Britain to become player-manager of Glasgow Rangers in 1986. One of Liverpool”
s greatest-ever players and captains, Souness returned as the club”
s manager shortly before the end of the 1990-1991 season. He was introduced to the crowd before the home game with Norwich City on the 20th of April. Five league matches remained but Liverpool”
s chances of catching leaders Arsenal were only slim. Successive away defeats to Chelsea & Nottingham Forest early in May ended their already faint hopes of retaining the title.
During the summer Mark Wright & Dean Saunders were recruited from relegated Derby County and Mark Walters arrived from the manager”
s former club Rangers. The team made a decent start to the league programme winning 4 of the opening half dozen matches but there was only a single victory from the next 9 league games. Souness bought Rob Jones from Crewe early in October and the full-back went straight into the side and had a most impressive debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford. But the problems were more at the other end; the team had scored only 6 times during that 9-game run that saw just one win. After scoring in successive home matches at the end of August, the goals dried up from Saunders and even though Steve McManaman was starting to emerge as a young player with enormous potential, neither he nor Walters were ever seen as prolific marksmen. Ian Rush missed the early weeks of the season so perhaps it was not surprising that so few goals were scored during this period. Patchy league form extended to the cups where both Stoke City & Port Vale held Liverpool to draws at Anfield before being defeated on their own grounds. However, it wasn”
t to be ”
third time lucky”
for Liverpool as they suffered an embarrassing 4th round defeat at Peterborough United.
After 6 years in the wilderness, Liverpool were allowed to enter European club competitions for the first time since the 1985 European cup final in Brussels (other English clubs had been re-admitted in 1990) but there were still restrictions on the number of foreigners that could play. Souness had to pick his team carefully for the opening round against Finnish club Kuusysi Lahti who were finished off with a late flourish at Anfield but won their meaningless home encounter a fortnight later. Another away defeat followed in the 2nd round at Auxerre but there was a thrilling fightback in the home leg when Liverpool overturned a 0-2 deficit thanks to goals from Molby, Marsh & Walters.
Graeme Souness had a reputation of being an aggressive player who wouldn”
t take any prisoners on the pitch and it seemed some of that abrasiveness had stayed with him. He wasn”
t afraid to speak his mind or make difficult decisions but it doesn”
t seem to have taken long before his management style upset some of the players at Liverpool. After finishing 1st & 2nd in the previous two seasons, it was soon clear the current Liverpool team was nowhere near good enough to challenge for the championship. Inconsistency was common and results and performances were often poor, especially away from home where only 3 of the 21 league fixtures were won. It was the F.A. cup that saved Liverpool”
s season but even that came at a price, certainly where the manager was concerned. Michael Thomas had been bought from Arsenal shortly before Christmas and it was his goal against Aston Villa that saw Liverpool through to the semi-final where they would meet outsiders Portsmouth. After the drawn match with the south coast club at Highbury on the 5th of April, Graeme Souness announced to the media that he would be going into hospital immediately to undergo a triple by-pass heart operation. There had been no warning of this so it was a big shock. But shock turned to outrage from the supporters when on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster the manager”
s picture and story were plastered all over the front page of the reviled Sun newspaper. An apology later came but although Graeme Souness tried to defend the timing of the article and might not have had any say in the actual date it would be printed, many supporters saw his decision to sell his story to that newspaper as insensitive and unforgivable.
Graeme was able to attend the cup final against Sunderland but a doctor was in close attendance. Everyone knew he had been seriously ill but there was still simmering discontent about the way he had sold his story and patience was not something the manager was likely to experience from the fan-base in the season to come. Over two million pounds was spent on Paul Stewart but he was a complete failure. Stewart wasn”
t the only player Souness bought who failed to make much impact at Anfield. League form was even more wretched than it had been the previous season. Once again the team won only 3 league games on its travels and there could have been a far worse League cup humiliation than Peterborough when Chesterfield came to Anfield and led 3-0 before the home team somehow scraped a 4-4 draw. Only 12 and a half thousand fans bothered to attend and probably a quarter of those were in the visitors”
enclosure. Things got so bad that when Liverpool went to Middlesbrough in the middle of March, the Wearsiders occupied one of the relegation places but could have joined Liverpool on the same number of points if they had won. Thanks to a late winner from Ian Rush and a flurry of goals from the Welshman as the season reached its end, the club climbed into a more respectable 6th place. But when Liverpool played Spurs at Anfield on the final day of the season, the manager was nowhere to be seen and there were already rumours spreading that he had resigned or been dismissed. As things turned out, he survived any attempt from the club”
s board to remove him but possibly only because of his close friendship with chairman David Moores.
Nigel Clough and Neil Ruddock arrived during the summer of 1993 and both made an immediate impact as Liverpool won their opening 3 matches in style and went to the top of the table. But any hopes that Souness the manager had finally got things right were quickly dispelled. The team played 4 league games in September and not only did they lose them all they failed to score a single goal. There was however a very public disagreement during the defeat at Goodison where Grobbelaar and McManaman came to blows, perhaps indicative of the frustration of the players at the time but of their lack of discipline as well.
Souness gave Robbie Fowler his first-team debut in the League cup at Fulham and the youngster scored at Craven Cottage and then amazingly grabbed all 5 goals when Liverpool won the return leg. Robbie was an immediate success but the same could not be said of Julian Dicks who arrived from West Ham in September with Mike Marsh & David Burrows going the other way.
Time seemed to be running out for the manager. Shortly after New Year, Manchester United came to Anfield and swept into a 3-0 lead with the visiting supporters taunting the home crowd and its manager with a sarcastic chant of ”
Souness must stay”
. It was one of the rare occasions when a team picked by Graeme Souness showed some fight and pride. On one of the final occasions in front of a standing Kop, Clough (2) and Ruddock brought the score back to 3-3. The team survived a tricky F.A. cup tie with Bristol City at Ashton Gate and brought the West Country club back to Merseyside for a replay. But for the second season in a row, Liverpool were dumped out of the competition in front of their own supporters. This was a far worse defeat than to Bolton in 1993. There was deserved and appreciated applause from the home fans towards the victors at the end but also howls of derision aimed at the Liverpool team and its manager. Not even a close friendship with the manager could save Graeme Souness this time. His contract was terminated by mutual consent. That is probably the politest way of saying that a manager has been dismissed.
Graeme Souness has brought other teams to Anfield since his period of management at Liverpool finished. But there hasn”
t been the anger directed towards him that a significant percentage of Liverpool supporters might feel he deserves. There has been polite applause from some and complete indifference from others. At the time of his appointment in 1991, there probably weren”
t too many who disagreed with the board”
s choice. But sometimes it is a mistake to go back. Graeme was one of the best players most of us have ever seen and a truly inspirational captain. But his honeymoon period as manager soon ended. All managers make mistakes. Possibly Graeme”
s biggest mistake while he was Liverpool manager had nothing to do with a football match and it was a mistake for which he would pay dearly because from that moment on he had lost the respect and support of much of the fan-base and would never get it back no matter well how the teams he sent out performed on the pitch. But as things turned out, most of what the supporters experienced during the Souness management era was disappointment, frustration and mediocrity, words that if he was honest with himself Graeme might even use himself.
Profile by Chris Wood, January 2005