Rangers' manager joins the 'let the players play' bandwagon

PALACE INVITE: Corgi managing directors Chris Jones and Lisa Wood.

PALACE INVITE: Corgi managing directors Chris Jones and Lisa Wood.

First published in News

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

game's appeal.

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

touchline ban.

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

listen.

''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

open up.

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

further surgery.

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