For a man who has built a reputation as a scathing television pundit in his post-football media career, Graeme Souness can have little complaint about Jamie Carragher’s comments before his testimonial at Anfield on Saturday.
Carragher, celebrating 16 years of service for Liverpool, delivered a frank and honest assessment on the club’s residual decline over the last two decades. When asked what he would like to say to Sir Alex Ferguson if given the chance, he responded:
“If I was in his (Ferguson’s) company, I would also tell him, first off, that Manchester United never knocked Liverpool off their perch, as he put it. That’s just nonsense. Graeme Souness did that.
“When United were going for their first title under Ferguson in 1992-93, they were competing with Norwich and Aston Villa. They weren’t competing with Liverpool, were they?”
Indeed they were not. The club dropped from being league runner-ups in 1990-91 to sixth placed in Souness’ first season in charge, their lowest placed finish in 30 years. The Reds spent the majority of the debut Premier League season, Souness’ second, languishing in 15th place towards the bottom of the table before a late run saw them secure a second successive sixth place finish.
Souness, a three-time European Cup winner with Liverpool, was heavily criticised for his inept tactical ability and poor record in the transfer market. The Scotsman eventually resigned in January of his third season at Anfield following another poor run of results. Record signing Dean Saunders and one-goal flop Paul Stewart epitomised Souness’ inadequacy in the transfer market compared to that of his predecessors.
Despite an FA Cup win, the former tough-tackling midfielder’s reign at Anfield is mostly remembered as an utter disaster. While his transfer dealings certainly didn’t help his standing amongst Liverpool fans, Souness realised changes had to be made to an aging side whose average length of service at the time of his arrival was nine years. With 30 years of success under Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish weighing heavy on his shoulders, Souness struggled to build a side capable of challenging at the top. He did however help develop the club’s young players, giving the likes of Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman the chance to flourish in the first-team.
While Souness clearly was a factor in the club’s initial decline, his relatively short tenure at the club gave the board the chance to quickly amend the mistakes that were made in the formative Premier League years. The appointment of timid boot room survivor Roy Evans in a bid to revitalise the club was a poor one and another three years passed under his leadership without a major trophy. Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez were successful to a certain extent, but ultimately failed to return Liverpool to the dominant force they once were in English football.
Carragher was not personally attacking Souness with his comments, but observing how Liverpool’s natural cycle of success came to an end after such a prolonged period of time. Just as kingdoms rise and fall, so do empires established over decades in football.
It is incredibly unrealistic to hold one man responsible for 20 years of failure and Liverpool, as a whole, have certainly been the architects of their own downfall.
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