Eye On The Experts: Graeme Souness

The simmering presence of his rather animalistic playing days still looms large, but there is a quiet authority to Graeme Souness' punditry career. He's one of the best...

Last Updated: 27/12/13 at 11:19 Post Comment

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John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at some of football's pundits and commentators and try to pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week it's the brooding alpha male that is Souey.

Style
Well-cut, fashionable suits for the older man about town. Looks in great shape so enjoys slim but not too tight tailoring. Simple, neat and yet expensive-looking hair cut. The 'tache, now shorn, somehow still lives on as ghostly presence. In the late 1970s, Souey looked like a character from an Armistead Maupin's 'Tales Of The City' (not that we thought such a thing at the time.) Indeed, when half of this column was a teenager, he had an under-declared gay friend who was caught by his then-girlfriend frotting himself into a lather over a picture of Souey in shorty-short shorts, 'tache and perm.

Accent has been clipped of incomprehensible Scottishness from years of English residency, and Souey almost seems a little posh these days. Still gets a marvellous glint of love in his eye whenever an act of violence is committed on the pitch.


Special Interest
Loves a "proper" player, by which Souey means one who will "leave his mark". By which he means "inflict a boot-originated scar". Football is a man's game and Souey is, if nothing else, a man. Anything which dilutes the game's manliness is to be abhorred, yet he mixes this alpha-male aggression with a love of sophisticated continental football.


Strengths and Weaknesses
One of the finest pundits on TV, his strengths include a brooding minimalist certainty about his viewpoint and a silent, slightly contemptuous sneer for those who do not share it. His passion for the game is worn casually but felt deeply. He doesn't bluster or default to cliché easily. One of the greatest sights in TV football is the look of withering distaste that he cannot quite contain whenever Jamie Redknapp talks about, well, almost anything. Also, for an older dude, he rarely lapses into the "in my day" perspective, recognising that it was a different country with different rules, rules which allowed brutal assault without punishment. When this is raised, he is, quite splendidly, almost bashful about his midfield bloodletting.

You can just tell he misses playing a lot, especially when punditing on the bigger games. The nostrils flare and the old tiger's tail flicks. Souey is fond of saying: "big players want to play in big games." He means: "big players like me." Being "big" matters to Souey. We imagine playing under him must have been inspiring, but also terrifying. Impossible to intimidate, he still has no time for those not mentally strong enough for the big gig.

A little insight into that mentality: he appeared in the 1980s Scouse drama 'The Boys From The Blackstuff' opposite Bernard Hill playing Yozzer Hughes, an unhinged man for whom "giz a job" became a mantra to economic depression. As you can see here from 1.27 onwards.

Hill, a fine method actor, sits next to our man and says: "You're Graeme Souness, aren't yer?" Eye-to-eye with each other, Souey later said he had no idea what the actor was going to do and briefly thought Hill was "going to put the nut on me." And that's how it looks. Hill's wild red eyes would have scared most of us, but did Souey flinch or look away? Did he hell. He stares down the deranged Yozzer, and would have taken the headbutt fearlessly if needs had been. Sitting in a studio with Jamie must seem like kindergarten in comparison. Never a backward step: that's the Souey way.


Tactical genius or tactics truck?
Knows his stuff but wears it lightly. Probably sees the obsession with tactics as the sort of thing men who are not proper men would fuss about. Mental strength seems very much more important to him than false nines and pivots.


Leg squeezer geezer?
No. Don't touch Souey, he won't be touching you. Seems a cut above the japes of the dumb footballer. Not hard to imagine him staring in icy silence at a silly young man making a fool of himself, something that football punditry must allow him to do on a regular basis.


Bantersaurus Rex?
No. We don't see him playing the golf club entertainer nor the sofa-based jester. Banter seems too unmanly for him, too childish. When guests in the studio try to rope him into such chat, he seems to almost physically resist it, sometimes turning his back as if to ignore it. In a world of overgrown boys, Souey has always seemed like a man.


Cliché counter
Apart from the aforementioned "big players want to play in big games" he doesn't really indulge in the default footballer language. Certainly will not pander to the "we don't want to see that" brigade. Souey absolutely does like to see that. One of our most cherished punditry memories of recent years was the look of genuine satisfaction Souey had during one half-time talk when he was demonstrating, approvingly, how some forward or other had elbowed an opponent. A masterclass.


Why does he get gigs?
He is a unique presence and genuinely has that most elusive of things: charisma. A good-looking older chap is a pleasure to see on the TV for both men and women. Years of experience at home and abroad, successful and articulate with it. Reports suggest he is allowed a longer leash on Irish TV and will expound more acidly on player's failings but even so, on Sky's European nights, you do not want anyone else there. He has become a fixture over many years because he is forthright, intelligent and you feel he would never utter a word he didn't believe. No bull. No obfuscation. He'll go in two-footed if needs be. It was ever thus.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.

Check out John's new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, are here.

You can also follow Alan and Johnny on Twitter.

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