Can Souness's harsh regime be the making of Newcastle?

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The Independent Football

Amid the glib drivel spouted by the chairman of Newcastle United - "you don't sack Bobby Robson", "Jonathan Woodgate will be sold over my dead body" - there was one comment from Freddy Shepherd that stuck out like a Geordie wearing an overcoat on the Quayside. Managing Newcastle, Shepherd said, was one of the top eight jobs in world football.

Amid the glib drivel spouted by the chairman of Newcastle United ­ "you don't sack Bobby Robson", "Jonathan Woodgate will be sold over my dead body" ­ there was one comment from Freddy Shepherd that stuck out like a Geordie wearing an overcoat on the Quayside. Managing Newcastle, Shepherd said, was one of the top eight jobs in world football.

Graeme Souness might beg to differ. From its position high on Gallowgate, visible long before you reach the Tyne, the eerily-graceful stands of St James' Park proclaim the club's constant glamour but in terms of pressure all Souness has to do is win one lousy League Cup and the city will be his. In Liverpool, Glasgow, Turin, Lisbon and Istanbul, cities where Souness has managed, they deal in championships not baubles.

Souness has long thought of himself as a potential manager of Newcastle and as Sir Bobby Robson's regime ran into difficulties, heightened by a dressing-room that refused to discipline itself, he asked to be kept abreast of developments. However, his appointment when it came, surprised even his deputy at Blackburn, Tony Parkes, who thought Souness was preparing to return to Ibrox as a replacement for the beleaguered Alex McLeish. He was cheaper than Steve Bruce, who would have required £3m in compensation, longer term than Terry Venables and a more soundly-based character than David O'Leary.

His record at Blackburn did not, however, inspire rejoicing on Tyneside. Against promotion to the Premiership, the League Cup won two years ago, relegation was only avoided in the final month of last season while Blackburn's forays into Europe were embarrassing, ill-prepared efforts.

It is, nevertheless, Souness' reputation for iron-hard discipline that most appealed to Shepherd, who when Peter Reid managed Sunderland admired Reid's ability to cast players who threatened his authority into outer darkness. This was something that Robson, for all his charm and wisdom could never do. When Kieron Dyer refused to play in his allotted position on the opening day of the season, Robson still defended him in the stifling, airless press room at Middlesbrough. Souness would have banished Dyer not to the bench but to the reserves, possibly forever. There would have been no compunction or hesitation. For all he owed Terry Butcher and Graham Roberts at Rangers, he could still demote them to a third-team fixture 200 miles from Glasgow after a falling-out. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke's failures at Blackburn were treated with Calvinistic intolerance.

And yet while a player at Liverpool, Souness was thought of as displaying all the worst traits of the modern Premiership footballer. Nicknamed Champagne Charlie for his lifestyle on Merseyside, he wore designer clothing at a time when most footballers thought Gucci was the bloke who opened the batting with Geoff Boycott. Souness married an heiress, put his two sons down for Millfield and bluntly admitted that the only reason he was leaving Liverpool for Sampdoria after their fourth and last European Cup triumph in 1984, was for the money.

His close friend, Alan Hansen, remarked that Souness' greatest weakness was an inability to accept that some footballers were less gifted and rugged than he was, added to a reluctance to admit any defeat in an argument. Hansen thought his failure as Liverpool manager was attributable to the way money had begun to pollute attitudes among ordinary players: "The old Liverpool dressing-room culture became increasingly difficult to sustain," Hansen said. "He found it difficult to accept that not all his players shared his pride in the club. For every player like him, he found 20 more happy to live in the comfort zone provided by their generous salaries."

Falling out with players is one thing, pitting yourself against the chairman quite another. At Southampton, Torino, Benfica and Galatasaray, his refusal to bend, to make the usual compromises led to his departure ­ in Italy after six matches. He will find Shepherd, who considers himself a kind of director of football at St James' Park, not a man to cross.

As manager, the early Souness was fond of bold gestures; ripping out Bill Shankly's old boot room from Anfield as a sign he wanted to transform the culture of the club, planting a Galatasaray flag in the centre circle of their great rivals, Fenerbahce, and, of course, signing a Catholic at Rangers.

Souness admits now that he tried to change Liverpool too quickly, recognising that his friend and one-time room-mate, Kenny Dalglish, had left a club in slow decline. The bringing of Mo Johnston to Ibrox, he says, was a sanguine decision. "I didn't do it to be a revolutionary," he said. "I knew he would complement what we had at Ibrox, although the offshoot was I offended half of Glasgow." Newcastle, happily, do not regard signing Catholics a heathen activity, but bringing in a Sunderland player might be another matter entirely.

Changing times: Souness's career

1953: Born Edinburgh, 6 May.

1968: Joins Tottenham as apprentice.

1972: Moves to Middlesbrough, plays 176 times for the club.

1974: Makes debut for Scotland in 3-0 win over East Germany.

1978: Signs for Liverpool for £350,000, goes on to make 247 League appearances, winning five titles, three European Cups and four League Cups.

1984: Joins Sampdoria for £650,000.

1986: Joins Rangers as player-manager. Leads them to three League titles.

1991: Returns to Liverpool as manager.

1992: Has triple heart by-pass operation.

1994: Leaves Anfield, after worst season for 30 years.

1995: Appointed manager of Galatasaray.

1996: Sacked by Galatasaray. Appointed manager of Southampton.

1997: Resigns as manager. Appointed coach of Torino; sacked after four months. Becomes manager of Benfica.

1999: Sacked by Benfica.

2000: Appointed manager of Blackburn, guiding them to the Worthington Cup in 2002.

2004: Confirmed as manager of Newcastle.

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