Football / Crisis in Liverpool: Souness attacks 'passionless' players: Merseyside's giants face a season of strife after exits from both cups leave with them only pride to play for

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The Independent Online
GRAEME SOUNESS, stung by his team's FA Cup defeat at home to Bolton Wanderers, yesterday launched a scathing attack on certain Liverpool players, accusing them of cheating the supporters with their lack of commitment and of being interested only in money.

Liverpool's exit in a third-round replay - 24 hours after the same fate befell Everton - meant that the city's clubs had fallen together at the first hurdle for the first time since 1951. Both are out of the Coca-Cola Cup and, barring an improbable winning streak, non- runners in the championship too.

Everton have the threat of relegation to concentrate their minds, but for Liverpool, uniquely in the past three decades, the season is effectively over. However, an angry Souness indicated that no one at Anfield would be allowed to shrug off the Bolton debacle, Liverpool's worst Cup result since they lost at Worcester in 1959.

'The way the game has gone recently you have to look for players with desire rather than ability,' he said. 'Too many of ours have no real interest in or love of the football club - they're only interested in getting another move or another lump of money.

'That's totally unacceptable. My job is to get people on the pitch to be part of Liverpool FC, who want to die for the cause. I need 11 players like that, not six or seven. I don't want people who just talk about it. Even so-called stars can say they're fully committed and passionate about the club, but talk is cheap and we have a lot of good talkers here.'

Souness said when he first took the job, succeeding Kenny Dalglish two years ago in April, he believed that it would be 'just a case of getting a few players in and a few out, and recreating what they've always had here - a feeling for the club'. He now realised that it was a far greater task than he had thought.

Asked whether he had the support of the club's directors, Souness replied: 'The only backing I have to be concerned about is my players'. They're the only ones I can influence. We had three or four out there against Bolton who did not give 100 per cent, who don't see playing for Liverpool as the pinnacle of their career.

'A successful football career used to be about winning things. Today it's about how much money you end up with. I can't blame the fans for feeling short-changed, because they were.

'I've made mistakes - all managers do - but this isn't the time to analyse what I have or haven't done. We don't have enough winners here, which is something I have to change quickly.'

That may be easier said than done. Like Everton, who are pounds 3.6m in debt and playing to crowds several thousand below their break-even figure of 20,000, Liverpool have to sell before they can buy. The question is who would want to sign the likes of Mark Wright, Mark Walters or Paul Stewart, in whom Souness appears to have lost confidence.

Moreover, the majority of his squad is now cup-tied, and might be reluctant to take a drop in wages by joining one of the Premier League's lowlier clubs, the most likely purchasers at this stage of the season.

Even then there may be some disquiet among the Anfield board over Souness's record in the transfer market. So far he has spent pounds 13m and recouped around half that amount. Dean Saunders, for whom he paid a British record pounds 2.9m, stayed barely a season; Wright, who cost pounds 2.2m, has been unable to hold a first-team place. Of his other signings, only Rob Jones has been an unqualified success.

He has not been helped by an injury plague - the latest casualty is Michael Thomas, who ruptured his Achilles tendon against Bolton and will not play again this season - which has meant young players being thrust into the fray prematurely. In their response, elegantly epitomised by 19-year-old Jamie Redknapp amid the dross of Wednesday night, lies a slender consolation for Liverpool.

Redknapp, incidentally, was part of Souness's inheritance from Dalglish, as were the other youngsters who have sustained the side this season, Don Hutchison, Mike Marsh and Steve McManaman.

The great irony of the decline of Liverpool and Everton has been the parallel rise of Tranmere Rovers, who now carry the area's hopes in both League and Cup. Johnny King, the Tranmere manager, said yesterday that while he believed they could join their Merseyside neighbours in the Premier League, he expected the 'real power' to remain on the other side of the river.

'I've been asked by one reporter today if I would like Howard's or Graeme's job, which I think is terrible,' said King, who started his career as a teenager at Everton and was later close to Bill Shankly. 'They're two of the best managers in the game doing two of the most difficult jobs, and neither has been there long enough to be judged. I've been back here five years, which makes a hell of a difference. We've got continuity and stability.'

Tranmere's success in the First Division, inspired by the former Liverpool and Everton players John Aldridge and Pat Nevin, also proves the importance of developing local talent. 'Several of my team have come through that way and I'm forever on at my youth development officer, Warwick Rimmer, to keep digging up young players.'

As the purse strings tighten at Anfield and Goodison, it is an example to which the two once-great spending powers may now have to pay unprecedented attention.

----------------------------------------------------------------- LIVERPOOL FC - THE LAST 30 YEARS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Year Manager Lge FA Lge Euro Pos Cup Cup 1962-63 Shankly 8 Sf dne - 1963-64 Shankly Champions Qf dne - 1964-65 Shankly 7 Winners dne EC Sf 1965-66 Shankly Champions R3 dne CWC F 1966-67 Shankly 5 R5 dne EC R2 1967-68 Shankly 3 Qf R2 FC R2 1968-89 Shankly 2 R5 R4 FC R1 1969-70 Shankly 5 Qf R3 FC R2 1970-71 Shankly 5 F R3 FC Sf 1971-72 Shankly 3 R4 R4 CWC R2 1972-73 Shankly Champions R4 Qf Uefa W 1973-74 Shankly 2 Winners Qf EC R2 1974-75 Paisley 2 R4 R4 CWC R2 1975-76 Paisley Champions R4 R3 Uefa W 1976-77 Paisley Champions F R2 EC W 1977-78 Paisley 2 R3 F EC W 1978-79 Paisley Champions Sf R2 EC R1 1979-80 Paisley Champions Sf Sf EC R1 1980-81 Paisley 5 R4 Winners EC W 1981-82 Paisley Champions R5 Winners EC Qf 1982-83 Paisley Champions R5 Winners EC Qf 1983-84 Fagan Champions R4 Winners EC W 1984-85 Fagan 2 Sf R3 EC F 1985-86 Dalglish Champions Winners Sf - 1986-87 Dalglish 2 R3 F - 1987-88 Dalglish Champions F R3 - 1988-89 Dalglish 2 Winners R4 - 1989-90 Dalglish Champions Sf R3 - 1990-91 Dalglish 2 R5 R3 - 1991-92 Souness 6 Winners R4 Uefa Qf 1992-93 Souness 12 R3 R4 CWC R2 ----------------------------------------------------------------- EC European Cup. CWC European Cup-Winners' Cup. FC Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Uefa Uefa Cup. F Finalists. Sf Semi-finalists. Qf Quarter-finalists. dne did not enter. W Winners. -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- MERSEYSIDE EXIT LINES '92-93 ----------------------------------------------------------------- LIVERPOOL ----------------------------------------------------------------- European Cup-Winners' Cup: Lost 6-2 on aggregate to Spartak Moscow (second round). Coca-Cola Cup: Lost 2-1 at Crystal Palace (fourth-round replay). FA Cup: Lost 2-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers (third-round replay). FA Premier League: 12th place. ----------------------------------------------------------------- EVERTON ----------------------------------------------------------------- Coca-Cola Cup: Lost 1-0 at Chelsea (fourth- round replay). FA Cup: Lost 2-1 at home to Wimbledon (third- round replay). FA Premier League: 17th place. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Scottish League plan rejected,

Non-League Notebook, page 31

(Photograph omitted)