Al Jazeera presenter Graeme Souness on the 2011/12 football season
Graeme Souness has had a long career in football. As a player he captained the triumphant Liverpool team of the early 1980s, with spells playing in Italy, at Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, and as captain of the Scottish national team. As a manager he has been at the helm of Rangers, Liverpool, and more recently Newcastle United. His work is far from over, however, as now he offers his time for punditry on Al Jazeera Sports’ Champions League coverage. Surely one of the best people to talk to about the new season…
Let’s start with line-up changes. Manchester United are a different team this season. No Scholes, no Neville… Well, I think their influence on the pitch was diminishing anyway. But where those guys will be missed is in the dressing room. I think that’s why Fergie [manager, Alex Ferguson] was keen to keep them as long as possible, because they were great influences there. You need good solid pros, and they’ve been there for all of Man United’s glory years – up there with Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs.
Is it really that big a loss for them, then? Oh yes. It’s not just on the pitch, for me it’s more important what they give you off it. Making sure the young lads train properly and doing it the Man United way.
Do you think Torres might make a comeback this season at Chelsea? Torres is a real concern for them because he’s… how can I put this? I’m worried for Torres. He had a great year at Liverpool and after that he found it difficult, and then he went to the World Cup and didn’t perform. In there somewhere is a goal-scoring machine, but for me he has had a very difficult two years – especially in the last 12 months.
Will the managerial change at Chelsea make a difference? I don’t know… it will have to come from him, I mean, I’m sure [Carlo] Ancelotti spoke to him, giving him encouragement, but I’m not sure a new face will change things.
One of the big talking points for the Champions League is Man City joining for the first time. How will they get on? Well, they’ve got some big players there and I don’t see the pressure of one extra game a week getting to those lads. I think they’ll be dangerous this year – title challengers, maybe.
And how do you see Liverpool at the moment? Last season was particularly tough for them... I think [Stewart] Downing is a great signing, and getting good, young players is certainly the way to go. The club is going in the right direction with Kenny [Dalglish, manager] there and everyone is pulling together. We’ll have a good season.
He did seem to turn it around when he came on board... Yeah, that’s what I think. I mean, you’re not going to put your stamp on it in six months, but for Kenny it will be about improving this year and looking to getting to a cup final, if we can win a cup then great. Challenging for the Premier League title… I’m not sure they can do that this season with the players they have, but they will certainly be stronger.
There are a lot of different opinions about Arsene Wenger’s tactics – bringing in young players and working them hard. What do you think? Well, I’m a fan of the way they play football, but they’re a near-miss. For me, they need to keep what they’ve got and get maybe three experienced men who have been round the clock a few times. They certainly play football the right way, but… well, in football when you play 90 minutes and things are going against you, you need your men to stand up and be counted. That’s where they’re going wrong. They need guys in the dressing room that can sort the problem out for the manager and they lack that. Now they’re in a situation where some of their young players want to leave because they can’t see themselves challenging.
So who will be the team to beat in the Champions League this year? Barcelona will win it again, I’m sure. I can’t really see anyone else coming close. They are the team to beat. They’re playing different football to everyone else right now and they’re going to take some shifting.
Could the likes of Man City challenge them? No one can beat them right now. They play such good football and they’re at your throat from the first minute to the last. They just wear you down and they’ve got too many good players. People talk about them being weak in defence, but [Javier] Mascherano in the final was outstanding. But that said, the final is still a long time away… Anything can happen in football.
What about a favourite for the Premier League? The usual suspects. I think Man United will be the team to beat, but I can see Chelsea and Man City challenging, and hopefully Liverpool there as well.
So when does the Champions League start for you in terms of commentary for Al Jazeera Sports? September. Well, not the knockout stages in the preliminary, but that’s when it will start for me.
Do you fly back and forth to Doha for that? I get out to Doha about six to eight times a year, and the rest of the time I’m in the ITV studios in London. But I love Doha. I go out there and get treated royally.
And do you ever get insider information on transfers, with your past as a manager and connections? No, I’m not involved in that. See Graeme as one of the presenters on the Champions League this season, shown exclusively on Al Jazeera Sports. The Premier League is broadcast exclusively on Abu Dhabi Sports.