Thursday 18 July 2019

'If I was Liverpool now, I would think that their name is on the trophy' - Graeme Souness' Champions League final verdict

Former Liverpool great recalls past European Cup wins and insists Madrid showdown must not pass Reds by

Virgin Media pundit and Liverpool legend Graeme Souness is pictured during a Q & A session at Virgin Media, Eastpoint Business Park in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Virgin Media pundit and Liverpool legend Graeme Souness is pictured during a Q & A session at Virgin Media, Eastpoint Business Park in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

It was one of the biggest games of his life, and his last in a Liverpool shirt.

But the build-up to the 1984 European Cup final was anything but ideal for Graeme Souness, a rough night's sleep on the eve of the game, which was not down to raucous opposition fans but his own boss.

"My last game, in '84 in Rome, Kenny Dalglish and I used to room together, there was a telly blaring next door and we couldn't sleep," Souness recalls of that European Cup final where finalists AS Roma were also hosts.

"I phoned down to reception to ask, can you please ask the person in the room to turn the telly down, but nothing.

"I am up banging on the wall, on the door, nothing. Kenny used to take a sleeping pill, he managed to get himself off to sleep but I am struggling with it, eventually I got to sleep.

"The next morning, the person coming out of the room next door was Joe Fagan, I said 'boss, what was all the noise last night?'

"He said 'I opened a second bottle of Scotch last night and forgot to turn the telly off’. He f*****g kept us awake. We didn't have a drink, but the manager certainly did."

Souness's side would go on to win that final, beating Roma on penalties after a 1-1 draw, but looking ahead to tomorrow's decider in Madrid, the lesson is that to win a European Cup final you need to turn up on the day.

Souness was able to discount his lack of sleep to deliver a winning performance, but he sees over-confidence as the biggest threat to either side.

"Nobody approaches a cup final with any complacency, and we always treated them as thinking that the worst thing could happen," says Souness, who did play for Spurs early in his career but won three European Cups at Anfield.

"It's about not letting the game pass you by and making sure that you start right. 'We are the favourites so don't let it pass you by', it's all about zero complacency.

"Liverpool did not turn up for parts of last year's final, even though there was the 'keeper's mistakes and the injury to Mo Salah.

"Liverpool will feel that some of them did not turn up last year, that they did not play, mistakes aside and the Salah injury.

"I was in Istanbul last weekend for the game between first versus second.

Graeme Souness (left) Kenny Dalglish (centre) and Alan Hansen (right) the three Scottish players for Liverpool hold up the European Cup after beating Real Madrid in the European Cup final in Paris on May 27 1981.
Graeme Souness (left) Kenny Dalglish (centre) and Alan Hansen (right) the three Scottish players for Liverpool hold up the European Cup after beating Real Madrid in the European Cup final in Paris on May 27 1981.

"My old team, Galatasaray, let the game pass them by in the first half when the atmosphere got to them, and they were behind at half time.

"So they came out for the second half, 1-0 down, but the second half was completely different.

"They got caught up in the occasion in the first half and you cannot let that happen. If you do, then you go a goal down by half-time.

"It's probably less likely to happen to Liverpool because they were in the final last year and some of their players did not turn up.

"When you try to attach logic to this game, or any other game,  then you cannot. The way I see football is that eight times out of ten, the team with better players will win if they turn up. The game has never changed.

"It's about doing the basics right. This game is not about tactics, it's about the team that turns up on the day."

He goes back to the basics he was told at Anfield.

"Don't hand the initiative to the opposition. They preached that to us in every cup final we played — start well," says the Scot.

"When I went to Liverpool, I went to a team that were serial winners," he said. "I had only been there four months and I was playing in a European Cup final at Wembley.

"It wasn’t like we were sat in the dressing room feeling concerned. There was never a doubt we were going to win it, never any nervousness.

"You look around the dressing room at players who have done this the year before and that gives you great comfort. When you win it, you hope young players will look to you for that kind of inspiration.

"Liverpool don’t have that experience of winning things and Spurs certainly don't have that.

"Make sure you start well, concentrate on your own game, get your job done first."

Souness has three European Cup medals on his CV, and only two British players (Phil Neal and Gareth Bale) have won more, but that tally of three annoys him (then again, so does Manchester United’s 1999 win — "anyone can be lucky once, they should never have won that," he sniped).

"We should have won the European Cup more, we were the team to beat," he rues.

"Forest had the Indian sign over us for a couple of years, when we played Forest we'd have all the ball, all the chances, play in their half and lose 1-0. After a couple of years, we worked it out.

"We lost to a Polish team, to a really good team from Georgia, Dinamo Tbilisi — they had half the USSR team. CSKA Sofia: how the f*** did they beat us as the year before we beat them 7-0 over two legs? You do look at the teams who beat us.

The Liverpool side that won the Canon League Division One trophy for the 1983/84 season before they went on to beat Roma in the European Cup final in Rome. Photo: Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images
The Liverpool side that won the Canon League Division One trophy for the 1983/84 season before they went on to beat Roma in the European Cup final in Rome. Photo: Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images

"The three finals I played in, none of them were good games.

"The first one (1978) against Bruges, they didn't want to take us on at Wembley.

"The second one (1981) against Real Madrid . . . people have short memories but Spanish football used to be ridiculously cynical, they came after us and wanted to kick us off the park.

"The third one (1984) was a tactical affair against an Italian team. There is this thing about the name of Real Madrid but the Italian team, Roma, were a good team, Cerezo and Falcao. But none of them (finals) were classics."

Souness is one of a batch of players (including Robbie Keane, a guest of UEFA at tomorrow’s final) to have played for Spurs and Liverpool, but his time at Tottenham was fleeting, the highlight an FA Youth Cup final win in 1970.

"It's 80-20 towards Liverpool," he says when asked about his loyalties.

"Because that’s where I had my greatest experiences and was most successful, but your first love is your first love.

"I joined Spurs as a 15-year-old schoolboy when they were a big club. They have only won three trophies in 28 years, which is poor.

"I’m not sure that it’s going to be a convincing Liverpool win. Spurs have dragged themselves to the final and if I was Liverpool now, I would think that their name is on the trophy, given that Spurs have lost 19 games in all competitions this season.

"I would also feel that we have done well against them in the past two seasons, are playing well and just lost out on the league. But at the same time I realise that Spurs carry a genuine threat."

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