THAT TIME SOUNESS PLAYED WITH MANCINI
Graeme 'no half measures' Souness. We know he loved a good tackle, loves a dig at Paul Pogba on the telly and had one of the best barnets Edinburgh has ever produced. But do you remember that time when he shared a changing room with Roberto Mancini, Trevor Francis and Gianluca Vialli in Genoa? Though this could easily be the best pitch ever made for an 80s Italian porno, what we're really talking about is the positively sexual calcio that Sampdoria played during their 1984-5 campaign.
Graeme jetted of to Genoa to sign for Samp after having won three league titles in a row at Liverpool, as well as a European Cup in his final match - a game which Souness retrospectively sees as his best performance in red. The Scotsman signed on at a fee of £650,000, funded by Sampdoria's oil baron owner Paulo Mantovani. Souness was his third marquet signing, following the double coup of Roberto Mancini (£2.2 million) and Trevor Francis (£700,000) in 1992.
By the end of the 1984-5 season, Sampdoria had won their first Coppa Italia and had finished 4th in Serie A. At the ripe age of 31, Serie A was looking anything but a retirement home for Souey; it was only in his second game that he found himself up against an untouchable Maradona at Napoli away. Souness would go on to get five goals in Serie A at central midfield that season, as well as a crucial away goal at the San Siro in the first leg of the Coppa Italia final against AC Milan.
The 'goal twins' Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Villa were firing Sampdoria upfront. It was up to Souey to help shore things up at the back. Thanks in part to his defensive marshalling, Sampdoria only conceded 23 goals in 30 league games that season. Pretty decent, even by Italian standards.
Souness' decision to jump over to Serie A was by no means unique. This was a league that was fast on its way to becoming the focus of Europe, and would only gain further ground when all English clubs were banned from European competition in the aftermath of the Heysel disaster in 1985. Serie A was quickly becoming a weird offshore merry Albion, replete not only with Souness and Trevor Francis, but also Ray Wilkins and Luther Blissett at Milan.
This is no coincedence: Serie A's spending power dwarfed the rest of Europe. Italian calcio was sexy. It was the place to be for flashy cars, perms and dodgy ear piercings. Just imagine it. Graeme and Trevor down the 'fancy' bar in Genoa. Though it took a while to convince Souness, the stout has finally been switched for amaretto. Graeme persitently tries to pull the 'shaken, not stirred' gag to the same barmaid every weekend. Trevor keeps on trying to tell him that its never been funny. Souness isn't listening. He's in his prime.
Serie A was also drifting away from the old school of English football on a professional level. Players were living under controlled diets and developing their trade under professionalised training programmes. And they were winning, a lot. Between 1984-96, Italian clubs would take five European cups and six UEFA cups home between them. Such high standards would later entice the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario and Dennis Bergkamp from across the continent in the 90s. Once again, all roads led to Rome.
Back at Sampdoria, the 1985-6 campaign turned out to be far less prolific: they shored up in 12th position. But Souness was still called up by Fergie to captain Scotland at Mexico 86'. Scotland cannoned out of the tournament in the first round, getting knocked out by Uruguay in their final group game. Souness then dropped the curtain on his international career, and refused a contact extension at Sampdoria. The Scotsman would start the 1986 season as gaffer at Rangers. The Italian dream was over.
Graeme brought a bit of Scottish bite to a league where every touch taken was intensely methodical. Putting in slightly dodgy tackles each week, he was still doing what he did best. But now he was doing it in paradise, sunkissed and slightly smoothed around the edges.
Whatever you call it: an Italian vacation, a mid-life crisis or the gap year with Trevor Francis he never had, Souness had a pretty good time out in Genoa.