Graham Souness, Blinded By The Light

My name is Graham Souness, I will have my vengeance in this life or the next. For the gladiator, the fight against injustice is eternal, When victory is on the line you can be sure Graham Souness will be at your side, burning with pride and unquenchable will.

In the recent Blackburn-Liverpool Carling Cup encounter, visiting fans taunted Souness, from the sanctuary of a 4-1 scoreline, with ‘Souness, Souness what’s the score?’

Mocking the iron-man legend who used to drive the Liverpool midfield engine with such high-octane authority. ‘You get in first before they get you’, was his credo.

You couldn’t imagine them taunting Dalgleish, or other Anfield heroes, in the same way.

He Hates To Lose…
Last season it was Celtic fans who relished the opportunity to rub the former Rangers manager’s nose in indignity. They know how much he hates to lose, and they love to mock his vulnerability. They know he can hear the taunts, they hope that he will respond. Only age, professionalism and some residual vestige of dignity prevents him from climbing into the crowd to argue his corner.

But what is it about Souness which gets under people’s skins? What explains his spats with Rofe, Houllier, Cole, Dunn and myriad Premiership referees? It’s the question put to sports psychologists regularly.

Souness is trapped within the dotted lines of the touchline territory. For him, referees immoderately moderate the natural free flowing testosterone of football. He seems to feel that they don’t understand the sweaty manliness of it all. And, if the referee has not played the game, he can’t perceive the cultural nuances which allow the game to flow. Instead, like perverse gardeners, they sow weeds on the field of dreams.

His pitch side gestures, arms outstretched or pointing to his temple after another referring blunder are full of thespian expletive laden mockery. I know, the players know, the crowd knows? Why don’t you?

The Fear Of Failure…
Through his actions, we recognise that he hates incompetence and rails against the second rate and sloppiness. He is driven by the high achiever’s fear of failure or, even worse, being mundane: average.

By his simmering rage, Souness creates an aura of intimidation around him yet, for all their neat, precise football, his Blackburn team lacks that vital cutting edge which informed his playing career.

The hard man may have iron in his soul but his team doesn’t. With the departure of Dunn and Duff, and the absence of adequate replacements, is his recent frustration the recognition that he cannot take this team to the level he craves?

It has always been difficult for great players to become great coaches. Perhaps Souness suffers from what is known in sports psychology parlance as ‘star player syndrome’,suffered by many from Bobby Charlton to Glenn Hoddle?

The Sports Psychology Summary…
He imbues his team with his powerful emotional strength, but finds it hard to trust his players enough to give them the freedom to play where their intelligence takes them. Through this paradox he stifles their creativity.The driven Souness can drive his players, but too often the journey comes to a shuddering halt down some lonely, dark cul de sac.

So, does this imposition of will come at an inevitable cost? Will the very top jobs elude him because he is not yet able to stand back, like Ranieri or Wenger, to allow world-class players the freedom to play?

Posted in Football Psychology, Sports Psychology Blog.