Graeme Souness regrets not coming back to Rangers

The hype has been intense in any case. But imagine what it might have been like had Graeme Souness been the one shaking hands with Ronny Deila at Hampden on Friday, in a pre-Scottish Cup semi-final press conference.

Graeme Souness was no stranger to controversy in his time at Rangers, where he instigated a revolution  and collected the odd red card. Picture: SNS Group

It could have happened. Earlier this week Souness imagined the scenario had one of long-time friend Brian Kennedy’s two bids for Rangers been accepted. The most recent attempt was in October 2014, when the then Ibrox directors went with Mike Ashley’s terms instead, possibly unwisely.

It was definitely regrettable if you liked the idea of Souness returning to the club, where, 30 years ago this month, he made such a dramatic entrance. Had he become involved again this time, he claims he would have taken the post of director of football rather than manager. It’s perhaps doubtful he could have resisted a return to the dugout, where a game such as today’s Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final would have pushed all his buttons.

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“It’s a regret that me and Brian didn’t come in and shape the club the way we’d envisaged,” he says now. “The fact we wanted to do it should tell you that we really fancied it.

“You can’t make that sort of move just half-fancying it. I had experience of the club and Brian hadn’t. So I warned him about what he was getting into. I told him that it would take over his life. I had witnessed that with David Murray. He was such a cold, calculated businessman but became someone who was so passionate about the football club.

“I told Brian that part of my job would be making sure that didn’t happen with him. Was I disappointed? Of course I was. But you don’t always get what you want in life.

“Brian was going to take care of the business and I’d take care of the football. I wouldn’t have been the manager. I’d have been director of football, the title that no one wants!”

While he regrets not being able to return, he concedes those who have since taken charge “are making a real fist of it”. He just hopes Dave King et al can realise the investment required to move forward again next season. As for his own ambitions, the chance to walk back into Ibrox has come and gone. It was Kennedy’s potential involvement that really made his ears prick up.

“I wouldn’t come back now,” he says. “I don’t see what value I’d bring now. I was getting involved with a pal but there’s better people than me doing the job now.

“The moment has gone, in terms of having that role. Not in any football club. But the attraction was Rangers and it was going to be with a pal who I trusted.

“I’m now a visitor to Scottish football, rather than a participant. I think the possibility of me doing any job back here is gone now. I’ll enjoy it from a distance.”

Now a pundit with Sky, Souness will be watching from afar today, on duty in England rather than Scotland. But his return to his homeland earlier this week stirred memories of what it was like in 1986, when he answered the call of David Holmes, then Ibrox chairman. The pair of them helped instigate what is still known as the Souness revolution.

The likes of Terry Butcher, Chris Woods and Graham Roberts were recruited, lured by the promise of higher wages and European football. But Souness is still frustrated that some equally big names, some bigger, did not make the move to Ibrox. At the time he felt very few stars of the world game were outwith his reach.

“One or two players slipped through the net,” he says. “I tried to get Gianluca Vialli, I tried to get Ian Rush when he left Juventus to go back to Liverpool.” He might even have made good on his intention to sign a Roman Catholic earlier than was the case with Maurice Johnston. “I tried to get John Collins, I also attempted to get Ray Houghton before Maurice Johnston came.”

He hasn’t lost his ability to think big, nor to ruffle the feathers of those who accuse Souness of being unconcerned by the effect such expansionist ideas of his might have on the Scottish game.

He is accused by some of beginning Scottish football’s decline with such big spending, something others couldn’t hope to compete with. In the end, overambition, with dubious EBT schemes and failure to pay tax bills sunk Rangers too.

“At the time I was there, if we’d been in the English league, we could have been champions of Britain,” Souness said.

“We’d have kept growing. Even now, we’d have been in the top four. If Rangers and Celtic were in the Premier League today, the stadiums would not be big enough. Can you imagine Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool coming up here? I pray it will happen one day. We talk about the global game now. There are two ridiculously good football clubs stuck up here.

“How far can they go in the present set-up? You won’t attract the very best players while they’re here.

“I don’t think the chance has gone. Look at where the Premier League has gone in the last 15 years.

“It’s been like a snowball. It’s gathering snow as it goes down the hill, getting bigger and bigger.

“And it’s way from being finished. When it really catches on in India and China, it’s going to get even bigger. It’s only a matter of time. And it would be great if the Old Firm could be part of that.”

Graeme Souness was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.