Graeme Souness on Klopp, Liverpool’s title chances & a modern lack of leaders
Graeme Souness was renowned as a leader and tough guy during his playing days – but the former Liverpool captain appreciates only one of those tags.
Souness won five Division One titles, three European Cups and four League Cups during his seven years as a Liverpool player, as well as trophies with Middlesbrough, Sampdoria and Rangers, while he also captained the Scotland national team.
However, Souness played during an era where there were leaders throughout teams – certainly the most successful ones. He took the armband from Phil Thompson at Liverpool, but any number of players possessed the qualities a manager normally looks for in a captain.
They are qualities Souness believes are lacking in many modern-day footballers.
“There is a lack of leaders in the game, but maybe that is the case with life in general,” Souness says. “People are reluctant to take responsibility these days.
“I’m a big believer that you cannot have a successful football club without strong senior players who are ready to stand up and be counted.
“In every workplace, relationships change between the work and their bosses. Are people encouraged to take a lead any more? Are they encouraged to go out on a limb any more?
“I’ve never worked anywhere else than a football club, but there is a lack of leaders.
“A manager spends such a small amount of time with his players. Maybe eight to ten working hours a week ahead of game and that is small amount of time.
“In my eyes, senior players have a role to play away from the pitch when training has finished, to spend time with younger players and educate them, but that does not seem to happen. Training finishes, they all get in their big cars and they go home.
“We used to be more of a team when I was at Liverpool and we were dominating European football, and we all spent a lot of time together. I don’t think that is the case now.”
As a midfielder, Souness had it all. He was tough, certainly, but he was capable of dictating games with the ball and chipped in with his share of goals, too.
Upon signing him, manager Bob Paisley said of the Scot: “There are not many players who come up to our standard. Graeme can pass a ball, he’s got vision and he’s got strength.”
Over time, however, it is memories of Souness’ robust challenges, not to mention the time he broke an opponent’s jaw, that have endured. It’s not something he particularly welcomes, though he does acknowledge the physical aspect of the game he played has long since disappeared.
“I never really liked the tag I was given as a player,” he says. “Of course I was not afraid to put in a tackle, but I won a lot in my career and that was not just because I was aggressive on the field.
“Obviously, you had a chance to be more physical when I was playing and that has changed now, When I got hurt, I didn’t want anyone to know about it and did my best to cover it up, but it’s gone the other way now.”
Klopp ‘perfect’ for Liverpool
Liverpool could certainly do with a player of Souness’ quality in their midfield today, but the 64-year-old believes the current team has the right man in charge, despite his shortcomings.
“I think so, but in many ways, the way he plays football makes it harder to win trophies than say Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho.
“They play a style that is great to watch when they are at their best, but they do leave themselves open at the other end, and that will continue to be a problem for them if they carry on making individual mistakes.
“Overall though, I’d say that this guy is the perfect fit for Liverpool. He wears his heart on his sleeve and in what is an emotional club, the people there will like what they see from Klopp.
“His relationship with his players appears to be fantastic and that is not always easy to do in the game these days, given the dynamic between players and managers in the modern game.
“He needs to get the problems ironed out and we can all see what they are, but I would be reasonably optimistic he will be able to do that as I like so many aspects of what I see from Klopp.
“I think it was a coup to get him. Remember where we were when Liverpool made their managerial change. Wenger was under pressure at Arsenal, Van Gaal was under big pressure at Man United, Mourinho under pressure at Chelsea, and I’m sure Klopp would have been on their wanted lists then. I’m sure that’s why Liverpool went for him in the October.
“They could have waited until Christmas, but I think the owners knew they had to act quickly to get Klopp and he is the perfect fit for the club. He sees a bit of himself in the Scousers. You’ll Never Walk Alone was the anthem at Mainz and Dortmund and I just think when the call came in, he thought this was meant to be.
“He said he wanted heavy metal football when he came to Liverpool and people forgot that little catchphrase, but it is a wonderful way to describe what we have seen from his team when they are at their best.
“They frighten you at the back from time to time, but they play some wonderful stuff going forward and everyone in the city is behind this manager. I hope he gets it right in the end.”
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Klopp is certainly one of Liverpool’s most popular managers of recent times, but Souness knows better than most it will count for little unless the German is able to deliver silverware for the Reds.
He has led the club to two finals during his two years in charge so far, both of which they lost, but it is the Premier League title the Red half of Liverpool is still desperate to see arrive at Anfield.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game against Manchester United at Anfield, Souness says: “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we think of Klopp if he doesn’t win anything, that’s the reality. He needs to get close to winning trophies this season.
“Liverpool aren’t so good when they need to defend their own goal, but I would not write them out of contention at this stage.
“You get to March and if Liverpool are in a strong position to challenge for the title, that club can be a very passionate place and momentum can build up throughout the city that can be a positive factor for the team.
“If they are there or thereabouts, they will take some stopping.”
Souness, of course, is among eight managers who have failed to add to Liverpool’s 18 first division titles since Kenny Dalglish in 1990. Whatever happens to Klopp or at any other club, Souness has no desire to get back into management.
“I’m very happy doing what I’m doing with Sky Sports now and the management game is not for me at this stage,” he says. “I did it for a long time as a player and a manager and that is it for me.
“I also feel it is a very tough job now, given the pressure managers are under to deliver instant success. I can go home at night now, sleep well, not worry about players and the next match. This is a better way for me to be now.
“Management can be a very lonely existence and it doesn’t beat playing, whatever anyone says. I prefer to do what I’m doing now.”
Souness names Dalglish, incidentally, as the best player he ever played alongside, adding: “He had a fantastic football brain and the ability and talent to put into practice what his brain was telling him.
“You pick any Liverpool team of all-time and you put Dalglish up front with Ian Rush, simple as that. We dominated the European game and those two were a big part in that.”
By Kevin Palmer