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Angry Souness hits back at anti-Irish accusations

BRIEFLY, the eyes narrowed and the crimson embers of passion, which raged in his playing day pomp, threatened to erupt.



The barb which ignited Graeme Souness's fury yesterday was the suggestion of an anti-Irish bias under his management at Blackburn Rovers.

"I'd like you to make the point that I'm the last person in the world who is anti-Irish," he said with simmering indignation.

"I was aware a newspaper here carried such a story and that really annoyed me. I'm disappointed the guy who wrote those things didn't have the guts to turn up and face me today."

This was Souness at his snarling best, the original Guv'nor of British football, a player who made Paul Ince look like a pussycat and could paint brushstrokes on the canvas with awesome passing and ball striking.

And, then, the moment passed. The storm clouds cleared and there was Souness, the mature manager of 47, not the firebrand of 20 years ago, feared and respected across Europe.

In Dublin for a flying visit to announce a one-year alliance between Blackburn and the North Dublin Schoolboy League, Souness covered a range of subjects, from evaluating the Irish at Ewood Park to the influence of Jack Charlton on his career.

On those anti-Irish claims: "Forget football. My wife's family are from Dublin, the family's name is Kelly on her mother's side, O'Loughlin on her father's. Some of you might know Dickie Rock he's a relation of my wife.

"I think if you look at my career in football as manager I've shown I'm not interested in creed or colour. I've signed Jewish players, black players, Catholic players when I was at Rangers and my kids are Catholic. Why would I be anti-anything? I'm not."

On the out-of-favour Irish: "When I became manager a year ago, I had two international goalkeepers, Alan Kelly and Jon Filan.

"I like both of them and rate them highly but I had the chance to sign Brad Friedel, who I worked with at Galatasary, for nothing from Liverpool and it was an opportunity I took. To date, I've been proved correct.

"Jeff Kenna had an achilles injury when I came and when he played again it flared up again and he needed an operation. We still don't know if he's going to come back from that. In his absence, I signed John Curtis, a right-sided defender from Manchester United.

"Selling Lee Carsley to Coventry was a straight footballing decision. We had some young players at the club, such as David Dunn and Damien Johnson, who I felt could do a similar job in midfield. Managers are paid to make decisions and I believe I made the right one."

On the Irish in favour: "Damien Duff has got something few players possess the ability to take players on at pace. He's top drawer and would get into most Premiership teams.

"Since coming back from injury, he's fitter than he's ever been and he's grasped the defensive side of his job more. Newcastle were interested in signing him but as long as I'm manager, he's not leaving Blackburn.

"Alan Mahon has impressed me since he came to the club and I've told the directors I want to sign him permanently from Sporting Lisbon. They are looking for a considerable fee, more than we've offered, but my advice to the directors is to go and do it.

"Alan looks slight but he more than punches his weight in terms of getting the ball back. He's a great athlete but he's still not shown what he's capable of.

"If you look at the playing record of Jason McAteer, you'll find he's been involved in most of our games this year."

On Big Jack: "Jack was great for me. At 19, I was signed by Middlesbrough from Spurs by Stan Anderson. I quickly got him the sack and then Jack Charlton came along.

He said 'I can see you can play but I think your attitude is dodgy. There's two doors for you you can go through one and achieve nothing, like a lot of players who have ability, or you can go through the other one and make a success of it.' It was as black and white as that.

"Jack was hard on me and used to hammer me in front of the players because I was a Jack-the-Lad. Looking back, he liked me. If I'd been with someone less direct, less up front, I might have messed about for a couple of years and not gone forward as I did.

On Blackburn's Academy at Brockhall. "With uncertainty over the transfer system, any club which wants to be successful has to have an in-house facility for producing top players. If you come through the academy system, you'll be Blackburn Rovers through and through, as a player and person.

"That's what Fergie has with David Beckham, the Nevilles, Scholes and Butt at Manchester United the club is a part of them. That's what an academy will give you."

On Blackburn's promotion prospects. "We've the nucleus of a great young team but the biggest threat to going up is ourselves. We've lost one in fourteen games but we'll get beaten again and how we handle that matters most.

"It's like being a kid on the street again and someone punches you on the nose. Do you walk away or have some of it? How we deal with the punch when it comes will tell us a lot."