Premier League Clubs Managed: Liverpool FC (1992-1994), Southampton (1996-1997), Blackburn Rovers (2001-2004), Newcastle United (2004-2006)
Graeme Souness is now considered as one of the most respected pundits on television. His work, analysis and views are often spot-on for Sky Sports. However, before becoming a football pundit, he had plenty of success as a player and took charge of some of England’s biggest clubs as a manager.
The Scot was a fiery character in his playing days. He was an intimidating competitor who never liked losing and relished a good scrap at the heart of the midfield. He was also a leader and enjoyed plenty of wonderful days skippering Liverpool FC during their golden period of British football in the 1980s.
Trophies and success
Souness’ career began as an apprentice at Tottenham Hotspur but he never got into the first-team for the north Londoners. He featured just once in a UEFA Cup tie as a late substitute. Frustrated with his lack of opportunities, he had a brief spell in North America before moving to Middlesbrough in 1972.
Under the guidance of former England World Cup winner Jack Charlton, Souness started to show the dominant style he would possess throughout his playing career. He scored a hat-trick on the final day of the 1973-1974 season as Middlesbrough beat Sheffield Wednesday 8-0. They went up as Second Division champions.
Four years later, the biggest club at the time was Liverpool FC and they identified Graeme as a natural replacement for Ian Callaghan. He moved to Anfield in January 1978 and would spend the next seven seasons on Merseyside. This led to plenty of trophies and success. He won five league titles, four League Cups and the European Cup in 1978, 1981 and 1984.
In 1978, it was his pass for fellow Scot Kenny Dalglish that set Liverpool up for victory in the European Cup final at Wembley Stadium over Club Brugge of Belgium. At the start of the 1981-1982 season, Liverpool manager Bob Paisley decided to take the captain’s armband away from Phil Thompson and hand the role to Souness, starting an acrimonious relationship between the new skipper and the former captain.
In his final Anfield season, he scored the winning goal in the League Cup final replay against Merseyside rivals Everton and also converted his penalty in the European Cup shootout victory over AS Roma. He departed in the summer of 1984 with a host of medals and plenty of memories during the 358 times he represented the Reds.
First steps in Scotland
His next career move was to Serie A, joining Sampdoria. In his first season, he won the Coppa Italia which was the first time Sampdoria had won this prize. However, his career ended in Italy in 1986 when Scottish side Glasgow Rangers offered him the chance to become the club’s new player-manager. Not only was this to extend Graeme’s playing career, it was the chance to make his first steps into management.
He continued playing until 1991, retiring at the age of 38. In management, he began to take advantage of the ban English clubs had on playing in European competition following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. The likes of Terry Butcher, Trevor Francis, Ray Wilkins and Chris Woods all moved to Ibrox and the Gers began to dominate Scottish football again. He won 64% of his fixtures, guided the club to four League Cups and three league championships. Despite this success, his abrasive approach angered rival supporters and didn’t make him a popular figure with the Scottish authorities. There were a number of confrontations which led to touchline bans and hefty fines. This is something he has accepted since his management days ended.
In April 1991, Souness made the move back to Anfield, succeeding his former teammate Dalglish as the club’s manager. Dalglish had sensationally quit two months earlier, less than 24 hours after a thrilling 4-4 draw in the FA Cup with local rivals Everton. The stress in the aftermath of his response to the Hillsborough disaster had eventually taken its toll. Souness arrived and knew the squad was ageing. He needed to change things but would it work?
Too many changes at Anfield
The reshaping began with the arrival of players like Dean Saunders, Mark Walters and Mark Wright. His first full season in the Anfield dugout was a sign of things to come. Liverpool finished a distant sixth in the table and were knocked out by Genoa in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in their first season back in European competition after Heysel. However, football became a secondary nature to Graeme in April 1992.
He needed major heart surgery which was successful and returned to the dugout to witness ultimately his only honour as Liverpool manager, when they beat Sunderland 2-0 in the 1992 FA Cup final. In reality, a gradual change was probably needed in terms of the playing squad rather than a radical overhaul.
The 1992-1993 Premier League campaign was nothing short of disastrous. Liverpool went into March languishing in 15th position and only a strong end to the season saw the club rise upto sixth in the final table. His signing of Paul Stewart was a hideous piece of judgement. He spent £2.3 million on him and the forward would only score once under his management, spending plenty of time either underperforming or on the treatment table. Meanwhile, Saunders was sold to Aston Villa and he played a major part in the Villans’ near-miss with the Premier League title.
After being mysteriously absent from the club’s final match of the league season; a 6-2 drubbing of Tottenham Hotspur on a ‘scouting mission,’ there were rumours he was going to be sacked. However, the board elected to keep faith in Graeme. Ultimately, he was already doomed.
1993-1994 was not much better. Liverpool were only 14th in the table on New Years’ Eve, players were squabbling on the pitch and a home defeat in the FA Cup third round to lowly Bristol City proved to be the final straw. Two days after the defeat, he quit. Roy Evans would succeed him.
From Turkey to Portugal, via Southampton
Souness’ next management spell came in 1995 when he took over at Turkish club Galatasaray. His most iconic moment of his season in Turkey was racing onto the pitch and planting a large Galatasaray flag into the centre circle of the pitch of the club’s arch enemies, Fenerbahce. This nearly sparked a riot after the 1996 Turkish Cup final, which Galatasaray won.
He returned to the Premier League in the summer of 1996, succeeding Dave Merrington at Southampton. There was a fantastic 6-3 victory over Manchester United but Southampton finished a lowly 16th and their Premier League safety was only confirmed on the final day of the campaign. Again, his spell at this club will be remembered for one moment. In November 1996, Southampton signed a player called Ali Dia. The Senegalese was signed up on the ‘recommendation’ of current World Player of the Year, George Weah. He didn’t check any of the information and this turned out to be a hoax with the initial phone call having not come from Weah, but for Dia’s agent. He came off the bench against Leeds United, played dreadfully and was substituted himself shortly afterwards. It was a humiliating episode in his career.
Differences with Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe led to his departure in the summer of 1997 and he then had stints with Torino and Benfica. He signed plenty of British footballers at Benfica, including Saunders, Scott Minto and Gary Charles. Neither spell was successful and led to acrimonious departures.
Blackburn and Newcastle
He took over as Blackburn Rovers manager in 2000 when the club were languishing in the First Division. He won promotion for the club back to the Premier League and experienced League Cup success in 2002 when Blackburn defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in the final.
He managed to sign the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Henning Berg and got the best out of players already at the club such as Damien Duff, David Dunn and Matt Jansen.
Blackburn finished 10th in their first season back in the top-flight and then improved to sixth in 2002-2003. However, a disappointing final full term saw the club drop to 15th in 2003-2004 and relations between players and manager soured. Both Cole and Yorke fell out with Souness, Duff and Dunn left for Chelsea and Birmingham City respectively and Jansen was never the same player after a motorbike accident in the summer of 2002.
Four games into the 2004-2005 campaign, he resigned as Blackburn Rovers manager to fill the vacancy at Newcastle United, created by Sir Bobby Robson’s departure. Once again, his no-nonsense approach left some players annoyed and ultimately wanting to leave the club. Craig Bellamy left for Celtic on-loan after refusing to play out-of-position for a trip to Arsenal, whilst Jermaine Jenas and Laurent Robert left in the summer of 2005 after spats behind the scenes with Souness.
Despite reaching a European quarter-final and the 2005 FA Cup semi-finals, Newcastle finished a very disappointing 14th in the Premier League. Although he managed to convince Toon Army legend Alan Shearer to stay on for another season and helped play a role in Michael Owen’s decision to come to Newcastle, his Liverpool FC management struggles were occurring again on Tyneside.
With Newcastle sitting 15th in the table in February 2006 and growing fan pressure, owner Freddy Shepherd had little option but to sack Souness after a 3-0 defeat away to Manchester City. He had spent £50 million in the transfer market and the club were going backwards. Glenn Roeder would take the job after his departure.
Despite links with various posts since including vacancies at Bolton Wanderers and Middlesbrough, Souness stated in 2009 that he had no interest in returning to management. He has been a regular pundit with Sky Sports for the past nine seasons and seems happy in this role. Sky’s loss of Champions League rights in 2015 means he also does some work on European games for BEIN Sports in Qatar.
Graeme Souness always worked incredibly hard in his management days and is one of the game’s most well-respected figures. A legend as a player, his management style meant his final results especially in the Premier League were a mixed bag.