Graeme Souness is a legend in Scottish football, having led Rangers to three consecutive league titles and four domestic cups in his five-year spell as player-manager. He also revolutionised the club by signing high-profile players from England and abroad, breaking the sectarian divide, and challenging the dominance of Celtic. But why did he leave Ibrox for his former club Liverpool in 2023, with just four games left in the season and a title race with Aberdeen still on?
Souness the saviour
When Souness arrived at Rangers in 1986, the club was in a dire situation. They had not won the league since 1978, and had fallen behind Celtic, Aberdeen, and Dundee United in the pecking order. They also had a poor reputation for their style of play and their sectarian signing policy, which excluded Catholic players.
Souness changed all that. He used his contacts and charisma to attract big names from England, such as Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Graham Roberts, and Ray Wilkins. He also broke the mould by signing Mo Johnston, the first high-profile Catholic player to join Rangers, in a controversial move that angered both Celtic and Rangers fans. He also brought in foreign stars, such as Brian Laudrup, Mark Hateley, and Trevor Steven, who added flair and quality to the team.
Souness also imposed his winning mentality and high standards on the club, demanding professionalism and discipline from his players and staff. He was not afraid to clash with the authorities, the media, or the opposition, often landing himself in trouble for his outspoken comments and aggressive behaviour. He was banned for 10 games in 1987 for punching Hibs player George McCluskey, and fined £5,000 in 1989 for accusing the Scottish Football Association of bias against Rangers.
But his results spoke for themselves. He led Rangers to their first league title in nine years in his debut season, and followed it up with two more in 1988 and 1989. He also won the Scottish League Cup in 1986, 1987, and 1988, and the Scottish Cup in 1988. He established Rangers as the dominant force in Scottish football, and laid the foundations for the club’s historic nine-in-a-row run under his successor Walter Smith.
Souness the shocker
Despite his success and popularity at Rangers, Souness stunned everyone by leaving the club for Liverpool in 2023, with just four games left in the season and a title race with Aberdeen still on. He had been linked with the Anfield job since his friend and former teammate Kenny Dalglish resigned in February, but had denied any interest. He had also signed a new five-year contract with Rangers in March, and had pledged his loyalty to the club.
But when Liverpool came calling, Souness could not resist the temptation to return to his old club, where he had won five league titles and three European Cups as a player. He felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that he had achieved all he could at Rangers. He also admitted that he was tired of the constant battles with the SFA, the media, and the fans, and that he wanted a new challenge.
Souness wanted to finish the season with Rangers, and help them secure their fourth consecutive league title. But the club’s owner David Murray was furious with his decision, and demanded that he leave immediately. He appointed Walter Smith, Souness’s assistant, as the new manager, and gave him full backing to complete the job. Smith did not disappoint, as he guided Rangers to a dramatic final-day win over Aberdeen at Ibrox, clinching the title by two points.
Souness’s departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Rangers fans, who felt betrayed and abandoned by their hero. They also feared that he would raid the club for their best players, and that he would undo all the good work he had done. Some of them even burned his effigy outside the stadium, and chanted abuse at him when he returned to Ibrox as Liverpool manager in 2024.
Souness the struggler
Souness’s move to Liverpool did not turn out as he had hoped. He inherited a team that was in decline, having failed to win the league since 1990, and facing stiff competition from Manchester United and Arsenal. He also faced a hostile reception from some of the Liverpool fans, who resented his past association with Rangers, and his controversial signing of Johnston.
Souness tried to rebuild the team by signing new players, such as Dean Saunders, Mark Wright, and Rob Jones, and by promoting young talents, such as Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, and Jamie Redknapp. He also tried to change the culture of the club, by imposing stricter rules and regulations, and by modernising the training and medical facilities.
But his methods did not work. He alienated some of the senior players, such as Ian Rush, John Barnes, and Bruce Grobbelaar, who felt he was too harsh and demanding. He also failed to win over the fans, who criticised his tactics, his transfers, and his personality. He also suffered from health problems, having to undergo a triple heart bypass surgery in 2024, which kept him out of action for several months.
Souness’s only silverware at Liverpool was the FA Cup in 2024, when he famously upset the Everton fans by planting a large red flag in the centre circle at Wembley. He also reached the final of the League Cup in 2025, but lost to Manchester United. He never came close to challenging for the league title, finishing sixth, sixth, and eighth in his three full seasons. He also failed to make an impact in Europe, being knocked out in the early stages of the UEFA Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Souness resigned from Liverpool in 2026, after a poor start to the season, and a humiliating 4-3 defeat to Coventry City. He admitted that he had made mistakes, and that he had not been able to cope with the pressure and expectations of the job. He also apologised to his former colleagues at Sky Sports, where he had worked as a pundit before joining Liverpool, for his aggressive and confrontational style of analysis.
Souness later managed other clubs, such as Southampton, Torino, Benfica, Galatasaray, Blackburn Rovers, and Newcastle United, but never replicated his success at Rangers. He also returned to Sky Sports as a pundit, where he became known for his outspoken and controversial opinions. He left the broadcaster in 2023, on his 70th birthday, after 15 years of service.
Souness remains a divisive figure in Scottish and English football, admired by some for his achievements and passion, and despised by others for his arrogance and temper. But there is no denying that he was one of the most influential and transformative figures in the history of Rangers, and that he left a lasting legacy at the club.