GRAEME Souness continued yesterday where he had left off the evening
before, and wondered aloud why Rangers probably have suffered more
injuries than any other team this season.
Then, as he awaited news of an X-ray on Gary Stevens' injured leg,
which offered the English defender hope for the World Cup, he described
the current premier-division format as unhealthy, and called for
referees to perform with more strictness.
The Rangers manager, in fact, was tuning in to an old theme. Dundee
United's manager, Jim McLean, has been seeking protection for genuine
footballers for years now, and his dislike of the ferocity of the
premier division also is well documented.
However, the more influential managers who speak out against the evils
of this league the better, and if the leaders all put their heads
together, we may yet find a structure which will let the game flourish.
The sort of match witnessed by a capacity audience at Pittodrie on
Sunday, and viewed live on television, does nothing to enhance the
Souness looked as though he wanted to speak at length on the domestic
state of play, but archaic SFA regulations prevent football people from
going public, even when the words make sense. The Rangers manager, of
course, has been in trouble often enough and is currently serving a
But he and the others who believe the premier-division set-up is the
wrong one deserve to be heard. The are in the front-line and have an
inherent feel for the game. If they are saying the set-up is
inappropriate, then everyone else, administrators included, should
''It's only my opinion, but I think the format has to change. It's not
healthy,'' said Souness, who was referring to the fact that teams meet
one another four times a season. Often that figure is increased
depending on the cup draws.
Listening to Souness, the country's top league certainly is an
unhealthy environment for Rangers who, he says, have suffered more than
any of the other teams. ''I would argue that our injuries have been
greater than anyone else's. There are injuries in our matches which are
not there in games between other teams.
''Also, because the games are so competitive and fierce, there is an
increased possibility of our players reacting to tackles. They deserve a
pat on the back that they haven't done so.''
If Souness has an alternative to the premier-division set-up, he is
keeping it to himself and he would not be drawn either on whether or not
the tackling is more ferocious than anything he has witnessed on his
travels throughout Europe.
Again, the fear of SFA reprisals made him bite his tongue, but some
day soon, perhaps at the end of the season, he might be more inclined to
He says his team suffer more in the course of their duties because the
opposition treat games against Rangers as cup finals, but some sort of
league reconstruction would not alter the desires of other clubs to beat
the Ibrox side. Being the team everyone wants to beat is part of the
price Rangers must pay for reaching out to embrace glory.
It was ever thus, but this club's desire to continue spending fortunes
which make it possible to introduce big-name players into Scottish
football has made the others even more determined to upset the momentum.
Souness realises Rangers will have to contend with this, but he is of
the opinion that fewer matches and tougher refereeing would be to the
benefit of all teams.
For the moment, however, he prefers to concentrate on getting the
three points needed to secure their second successive championship, and
although he will have to do so without Ian Ferguson, injured against
Aberdeen on Sunday, and Stevens there was good news yesterday for the
latter. It was feared he had broken a bone in his right leg, but an
X-ray showed there to be only muscle damage and Stevens could be back in
business in three weeks' time.
This means, of course, that his place in England's World Cup squad
still could be assured. England play Denmark in a warm-up match on May
15 and although Stevens is unlikely to make that game, he should be
ready for the contest against Tunisia on May 31.
Stevens, who has 37 caps, has been a model of consistency, missing
only one league game in the last 68. He will be disappointed to be
absent while Rangers clinch the title, but knowing he will be in Italy
this summer is decent compensation.
By way of stark contrast, Ian Durrant can hope only that he will be
back on his feet and working without fear of pain in his knee. The
midfield player leaves tomorrow for America where he will be assessed by
specialists who will decide whether or not his career can be saved by