Graeme Souness helped launch the new Scottish Professional Football league yesterday and revealed that he would have been involved in this new era in the Scottish game with Rangers had events worked out differently last year.
• Graeme Souness says Scottish football has suffered by Rangers’ demotion to the Third Division
• Former manager backs Walter Smith and Ally McCoist to return Rangers to top flight
Souness has also urged the Ibrox club to move on after the ill-will generated by various sanctions imposed by the Scottish football authorities following their financial collapse last year.
He was happy to describe the SPFL as a “new start” yesterday, while he confirmed he would have been part of the new era in Scottish football had his friend Brian Kennedy succeeded in taking control at Ibrox last year. The former Rangers manager revealed he was prepared to work for free in a role similar to the one Walter Smith, who he brought to Ibrox as his assistant in 1986, occupies now. Souness stressed that he was not interested in coming back as manager. Rather, he was willing to return in an advisory role to current manager Ally McCoist.
However, Kennedy’s bid, after the Edinburgh-born businessman had joined forces with the Paul Murray-led Blue Knights group, was rejected by the club’s then administrators, Duff & Phelps, who conferred preferred bidder status on Charles Green’s consortium instead. Green’s stewardship of the club was controversial to say the least. Souness could not hide his dismay at Kennedy’s bid being overlooked in favour of the Yorkshire businessman, who was forced to step down as chief executive last season after allegations emerged of covert dealings with previous owner Craig Whyte and following controversial comments he made in the press.
“It’s not a case of holding regrets,” Souness said. “The administrator thought Charles Green was a better bet than Brian Kennedy, for whatever reason. And it didn’t happen. So I can’t have regrets. But I would only have been prepared to do it for Rangers. I would have done it for nothing. And I wouldn’t have done it for any other football club.”
Souness was keen to come in to act a bridge between the board and McCoist, someone who the former Ibrox manager had a sometimes troubled relationship with during their time together at the club in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I would have been there to help Ally – a bit like Walter is doing now,” he said. “I would have enjoyed that. Would I have made a difference? You have to believe in your own ability and it’s a club I know. I was never going back as the manager. I would never have gone back as the manager. But that’s all water under the bridge now.”
However, Souness does believe Rangers would be in a far better position with Kennedy and himself involved than they are now, with ructions at boardroom level continuing to destabilise the club. There has been further disquiet among the supporters at reports that new chief executive Craig Mather is being paid an annual salary of £500,000. Souness said the club’s fortunes would “definitely” have been improved had Kennedy gained control.
“The right people would have been there,” he said. “Brian Kennedy would have been the right person. He understands sporting clubs, though his experience has been in rugby. Yes, he would have wanted to make a few bob at the end of the day. But that could have been in 25 or 30 years. It could have been money his kids got in 50 years. He would have been there for the right reasons – there were no quick tricks with him,” Souness added. “This was a long-term project and he knew how difficult a road it was going to be. The club would have been filled with the right people at that time.”
Asked whether the right people were assembled at the club just now, he replied: “I don’t know them. I only know one [Smith]. I know he is right and I like to think he is having a big influence on what happens there. He is the best man you could possibly get.”
Souness described the new league set-up – where the four divisions will be known as the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Championship, Scottish League 1 and Scottish League 2, and play-offs will be introduced – as a “brave” move. “You now have fewer people making decisions and, in my experience of football, that’s good,” he said, of the merging of the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League. “I think there have been some bold moves and I really hope this works out. We couldn’t just sit back on our laurels and wait for things to change.”
He hoped that the new set-up might help heal the rifts that developed after Rangers entered administration in 2012. The old company was then liquidated and the club forced to re-apply to enter the Scottish Football League.
Perhaps surprisingly, Souness agreed Rangers had to “take their medicine”. “Those were the rules. There was no witch-hunt,” he added, with reference to the vote by SPL clubs that condemned Rangers to the SFL.
Meanwhile, Souness dismissed a suggestion that he might have got involved with Hearts, after Kennedy was also linked with a consortium who were considering making an offer for the administration-hit club. “I wouldn’t rule out going back to a football club in some capacity,” he said. “But not in Scotland. It would only have been Rangers I would have been interested in getting involved in.”