Graeme Souness studies Rangers' rise: why consultancy role is over, inside Philippe Clement's interview, night at Armadillo

Souness helped Belgian arrive in Scotland and reveals why he landed job

As the last Scot to skipper a team to a European Cup final victory, Graeme Souness is well qualified to speak about most subjects on planet football. Throw in appearances at three World Cups, it’s little wonder a giant image of him greets current visitors to Hampden Park.

Now 70, there’s nearly always an anniversary to be marked. Forty years ago this month, for example, Souness skippered led a team to home and away victories over Benfica en route to the aforementioned 1984 European triumph with Liverpool in Rome. There were clearly no hard feelings on the part of the Lisbon club. He later managed the Eagles for a two-year spell, one he describes as among the most enjoyable stints of his career.

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There are therefore few who can provide a better level of insight as Rangers, another of Souness’ former clubs, prepare to do battle with Benfica on Thursday night in the first leg of a last 16 Europa League tie. Of course, Rangers are more than just another of his former clubs. Although he grew up in Edinburgh, they were his team as a boy. It’s why Souness was so eager to answer the call after being head hunted by managing director David Holmes 38 years ago next month.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement was very impressive in his interview.Rangers manager Philippe Clement was very impressive in his interview.
Rangers manager Philippe Clement was very impressive in his interview.

“I will be forever thankful (to him) for that,” he says, reflecting on the initial meeting at Milan’s Linate airport, with Holmes fresh off a British Caledonian flight – the details are imprinted in Souness’ mind – from Gatwick. The midfielder was at Sampdoria in Serie A at the time. Along with Holmes, Souness helped revive the Ibrox club. It's one reason why he remains revered enough to bring the house down at a fans' event at the Armadillo in Glasgow on Sunday night. Even Souness must, however, defer to the current incumbent Philippe Clement.

The Belgian was the star draw despite Saturday's shock 2-1 defeat to Motherwell, the damage from which was off-set by Celtic's subsequent defeat by Hearts. Souness had a hand in Clement’s appointment earlier this season, although he was recently honest enough to admit he favoured Frank Lampard to succeed Michael Beale. A new revelation involves his much speculated about official return to Rangers, where he has been mentioned in connection with a consultancy role. "That’s been and gone," said Souness, firmly. "We spoke about it but it’s not going to happen. I’m not going to enlarge on it.”

Mercifully, he was happy enough to expand on Rangers' prospects this season under Clement. The Ibrox club invited Souness to be on the interview panel last Autumn. He liked what he heard. "His CV was very good, the best CV we had to look at," recalled Souness. "He interviewed very well. For me, his presentation was a 10 out of 10. But he told me last night it was the first presentation he had ever done! So it was all very impressive.

“He can hold a room,” he added. “When I am listening to a manager speak I always take myself back to when I was a player. I think, ‘If I am in the dressing room am I going to listen to him or not’. That was certainly the case when we were interviewing, I thought, ‘This is a man I would listen to’.”

Graeme Souness promotes Viaplay’s live and exclusive coverage of Celtic v Livingston and Hibs v Rangers on Sunday.Graeme Souness promotes Viaplay’s live and exclusive coverage of Celtic v Livingston and Hibs v Rangers on Sunday.
Graeme Souness promotes Viaplay’s live and exclusive coverage of Celtic v Livingston and Hibs v Rangers on Sunday.

The title race has been put to one side for the time being. Clement's side will fight on two different fronts this week, starting against Benfica, where Souness was berthed in the late 1990s, on Thursday night, before moving on to Hibs and the Scottish Cup on Sunday. Souness is well positioned to address Benfica's shock 5-0 defeat to rivals Porto on Sunday night, meaning the Portuguese giants remain a point behind Sporting Lisbon at the top of the Premiera Liga. “Right now, Benfica will be damaged after losing 5-0 to, historically, their biggest rivals,” he says. “They will be hurting. It will be one of two Benficas. Really angry, full-on Benfica who have parked that result. Or Benfica who are feeling sorry for themselves. We won’t know that until the night.”

Maybe Benfica themselves won’t know. “They’ll be a nervy lot,” predicted Souness. “It’s like Rangers losing 5-0 to Celtic. Can you imagine what the crowd would be like? But Benfica is the most marvellous football club," he added. "I had two years there and what a job that is. It just doesn’t get any better in football terms and lifestyle. It’s a giant of a football club. I think they say there are about 10 million people who live in Portugal and 5 million of them are Benfica supporters. So wherever Benfica go they have the majority of support. It’s a fantastic football club with a great European history.”

Like Rangers, Benfica have reached two European finals so far this century. Again like Rangers, they finished runners-up on both occasions. It was a fairer fight for both clubs in the second half of last century, with Benfica winning two European Cups in successive seasons in the early 1960s. They made it as far as the last eight 40 years ago this week only to be undone by Souness and co, going down 1-0 at Anfield and then, two weeks later, being trounced 4-0 in their own normally intimidating Stadium of Light.

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Rangers will undoubtedly find it harder going, particularly given the added motivation of their hosts to redeem themselves in front of their own supporters. Souness is comforted by knowing Clement is in the dugout and Jack Butland is between the sticks. Having brought England international ‘keeper Chris Woods to the club in 1986, he knows the value of being able to call on a dependable shot stopper.

Butland is in line to be called up to Gareth Southgate's England squad for this month's friendlies against Brazil and Belgium, when he could gain his first caps in six years. Souness believes he is at the very least putting pressure on current No 1 Jordan Pickford. "He’s every bit as good as any other England goalkeeper out there at the moment – if not better," he said.

Graeme Souness was promoting Viaplay’s live and exclusive coverage of Hibernian v Rangers on Sunday. Viaplay is available to stream from or via your TV provider on Sky, Virgin and Amazon Prime as an add-on subscription.



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