Ronnie Whelan On The Reasons Graeme Souness “Failed” As Liverpool Manager

Whelan Souness

Ronnie Whelan and Graeme Souness celebrated many successes together while teammates at Liverpool throughout the 1980s.

Leading a potent midfield, the duo won three First Division League titles together as well as a European Cup in 1984.

That same year, Souness made the move to Sampdoria, but returned to Merseyside as manager in 1991 following the resignation of Kenny Dalglish.

Liverpool changed under Souness as did the relationship Whelan once had with his former teammate. The Scotsman remained as Liverpool manager until 1994 but during that time, he only won a single piece of silverware – the FA Cup.

In his 2012 autobiography, ‘Walk On: My Life In Red’, Whelan outlined the reasons for Souness’ failure as Liverpool manager.

“Souey failed for two reasons: his judgement of players and the way he handled players, both young and old. You live and die by the players you bring in – and also by the players you let go.

“After that, you need good man-management skills, and at times his were terrible.”

The former Scottish international made an immediate statement at Liverpool by his dealings in the transfer market. In the space of two years, he made 15 signings while he also let go of the likes of Peter Beardsley and Steve Staunton.

“Between summer and Christmas of 1991, the manager got rid of six players.

“When managers moved on players it never upset me because in one way it was none of my business – you just had to get on with it. We still had to play no matter who was bought or sold.

“But of course it was our business, more than anyone else’s arguably, because we had to play with them and deal with the consequences it they weren’t doing the job.”

Whelan argues that the number of changes Souness made to the squad upset the balance entirely. And it resulted in Liverpool transitioning from a feared and formidable outfit to a very beatable team.

“You had a team now that wasn’t stable and united. There was a lot of individual play. We had our moments, times when we clicked and looked pretty impressive. But the reality was we were a team that wasn’t hard to beat.

“I’d played with a team that was one of the hardest to beat there’s ever been. And I played in a team that had so much flair it could go and win a game out of nowhere.

“Souey’s team was neither one thing nor the other. A lot of good moments but not consistent enough to win a league. And that’s the standard we should be talking about at Liverpool. You want to be looking at players who are good enough to win a league and we weren’t bringing in players of that calibre. We didn’t gel as a team and it never really happened for us that first season.

“And I don’t think we ever recovered. The clear-out had been too radical. He had changed too much too soon. There was no stability there.

“Time and again his decisions in the transfer market left us shaking our heads. Apart from Rob Jones, it’d be hard to say that any of his signings ever really worked out.”

However, it was Souness’ management style and treatment of his players that proved even more detrimental to Liverpool, according to Whelan.

“I also believe his man-management skills could have been a lot better. With Souey, it was my way or the highway. In fairness, he wasn’t confrontational all the time. He was confrontational when things weren’t going well. So I suppose he was confrontational a lot of the time – and in a bad mood the rest of the time.

“But I honestly knew that he wanted it to work. From the bottom of his heart he wanted it to work. I would have loved if he’d succeeded and I wanted to help him as much as I could. He was an old mate after all and I had nothing but admiration for him as a player.

“But I was just plagued with so many injuries, I missed huge chunks of his first two seasons. Maybe I was a bit naive thinking that we could have a closer relationship than he might have had with the younger lads, seeing what we’d been through together as players.”

By mid-1992, the relationship between Whelan and Souness was deteriorating. The Dubliner lost the captaincy to Mark Wright, as well as the No. 5 jersey, a shirt that he considered “lucky” and had worn for seven years, however he received no explanation from his manager on that move.

More incidents happened behind closed doors, Souness blanking Whelan after a poor performance while on one occasion, he called him up from the reserves to travel down to Chelsea following a knock to one of the first-team players during training. However, when they arrived down in London, Whelan wasn’t even named on the bench.

However, it was when Souness shared his dissatisfaction in public that matters really went downhill.

“It was Souey himself who went public on the tensions in the camp after that Bolton game [FA Cup third-round replay 1993]. He couldn’t contain his frustrations anymore. He went on a rant to the press afterward.

“‘They [the players] don’t see playing at Liverpool as the pinnacle of their careers. They are only interested in getting another move or another lump sum of money and that’s unacceptable.’

“And as a manager, you’re going to lose the dressing room if you come out with stuff like that to the press. This was his man-management at its worst. He was basically calling us greedy and gutless in front of the public. It was a reckless thing to do.”

From that point onwards, Melwood was not a happy place, Whelan wrote. Players were walking on eggshells around Souness and it was that tension that led to his eventual departure as manager in 1994.

“I think Souey went into the job the way he used to go into tackles, full steam ahead, not caring whether he hurt himself or anyone else.

“Everybody was sorry to see him go when he left as a player; I’m not so sure it was the same when he left as manager”.

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Author: Marisa Kennedy

Marisa is a Digital Journalist with Pundit Arena. You can contact her at or on Twitter View all posts by Marisa Kennedy