Graeme Souness is a name that will conjure up all sorts of images for football fans depending on their age. Some will know him only as the straight-talking pundit, others will remember him in the dugout from a managerial career that spanned 20 years but when the history books are written he’ll predominantly be remembered as a player and that’s where we focus our attention today.
The early years
Souness was born and raised in Edinburgh but actually got his break into professional football well south of the border having been picked up by Tottenham Hotspur as a teenager.
There is no doubting that Bill Nicholson, who was manager at Spurs at the time, is one of the greatest characters ever associated with the club but after a successful loan spell in Canada with Montreal Olympique and a solitary senior appearance, which lasted just 16 minutes, for Tottenham it has to go down as a huge mistake that Souness was allowed to sign for Middlesbrough for a fee of just £30k. Even considering the move took place in 1972 the fee was not a sizeable one.
Moulded in Middlesbrough
Few outside of Teeside would think of Souness as a figure in Middlesbrough’s midfield but their fans will remember his six year stint there well with the Scot regarded as one of the best ever players to pull on the red strip of Boro.
All in all, Souness spent six years in the North East making near on 200 appearances, as well as chipping in with 22 goals despite the fact goal scoring wasn’t really his game. The biggest contribution he made though was as an instrumental figure in Jack Charlton’s side that romped Division Two, and subsequently won promotion to the top tier.
Souness performed at a strong level so consistently after signing from Spurs that in October 1974 – two years into his spell with Boro – that Scotland manager Willie Ormond handed him his international bow alongside another eighties legend in Kenny Dalglish. It wasn’t just his home nation that took note of his impressive displays in the middle of the park and in January 1978 Liverpool came knocking and a fee of £360k was enough for all parties to be content with their lot.
The Scot has regularly spoken that his time with Boro was when he matured as a person and ‘found his feet’ on the football pitch, which is a sentiment that shouldn’t be underestimated given what he achieved after moving on.
A legend made in Liverpool
Souness, who always backed himself to be a top player, was stepping into arguably the best team in the world. He quickly established himself as a big player with his tenacity endearing him to the fans – although perhaps not quite as much as his goal of the season strike against Manchester United did.
On top of the honour of scooping a personal award for his goal versus United, team silverware came along in his inaugural season as well and it was the biggest trophy of the lot – the European Cup. The match was a closely contested affair in front of 92,000 at Wembley Stadium and whilst Dalglish grabbed the headlines with the only goal of the match it was Souness who had the composure and vision to slip him in.
After that, it was a case of floodgates opening for Souness and a bigger trophy cabinet soon became a requirement. The 1978/79 season saw him feature in 41 league games notching eight goals and assisting a further seven as Liverpool won the First Division title by eight points. The following season saw Souness’ creative influence drop with just a single goal and assist but his ability to break up play and recycle possession was invaluable and it helped his team to back to back titles, this time edging out Man United by two points.
To anyone who was judging Souness on his offensive stats in the 79/80 season then they might have seen his influence dropping but the truth was his presence was growing with each game and across the next couple of years he cemented his place in the Liverpool Hall of Fame. First, in the 80/81 season, although the Reds only managed a fifth place finish, Souness scored six in 37 league appearances and he played a starring role in Europe as Liverpool won a third European Cup. Souness bagged six in just eight games – including a quarter-final hat-trick – on route to the golden boot and a first ever League Cup medal also arrived.
The next season started with the familiar sight of Souness in the heart of the action but by now Bob Paisley had entrusted him with the captaincy and it was a role that he thrived on.
Leaving a legacy
At the time, it looked like a big ask for Souness to take Liverpool to new heights but four trophies in two seasons – a league and League Cup double that was duly defended – and the second League Cup win gave Souness, a tough battler, the chance to show his softer side as he classily stepped away and allowed the retiring Paisley to hold aloft the trophy.
Then, in what proved to be Souness’ final year as a Liverpool player, a miraculous campaign was upon us and it showcased every part of the skipper. Another First Division triumph was secured with Souness having an involvement in 11 goals and, again, the League Cup was on its way to Anfield after a nerve wracking couple of matches with Everton; the deadlock eventually broken 21 minutes into the replay courtesy of a Souness swivel and volley from distance.
Another European Cup was soon added to the ever growing list of titles with a penalty shootout win over Roma in Rome but not before a semi-final with Dinamo Bucharest brought out Souness’ fight – quite literally – as he broke the jaw of Lica Movila and, as there was no VAR in those days, he escaped punishment and netted a spot kick in the final.
In total, Souness made 359 appearances and scored 55 goals whilst winning 11 major trophies.
Life after Liverpool
Souness might have moved on from Anfield but winning was now ingrained in his blood. Two years in Italy, with Sampdoria, saw a Coppa Italia medal added to the collection and then a return to Scotland came with a player-manager role at Rangers that saw a league and cup double in 1987 complete his trophy haul.
The final word
Souness moved into management at the end of his playing career and made a decent go of it with 10 trophies from three countries and four teams but, to anyone who saw him on the field, he’ll always be the combative midfielder who could ‘play’ just as much as he could battle.
A true great.