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Souness steels himself for Celtic mission

© Reuters 2002

GLASGOW, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Graeme Souness never shirked a challenge during his playing career and his Blackburn Rovers side will need to show similar steel when they visit Scottish champions Celtic in their all-British UEFA Cup tie on Thursday.

Over the last 11 years, Souness has sampled a cosmopolitan lifestyle as manager of teams such as Turkish side Galatasaray, Benfica of Portugal, Italy's Torino and English trio Liverpool, Southampton and Blackburn.

But Celtic fans prefer to recall him as the former manager of their bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers.

That he was a splendid success during five years at Rangers - between 1986 and 1991 - does not delight any Celtic supporter and will guarantee the 49-year-old manager a noisy welcome from a 60,000 crowd expected for the second-round, first-leg match at Celtic Park.

But Souness is unlikely to be overly perturbed if he is loudly derided by the home supporters.

After Galatasaray won the Turkish Cup at Fenerbahce's ground in 1996, Souness bounded on to the pitch and planted the club's flag in the centre circle despite a barrage of missiles being thrown from the crowd.

"If I was to go back there and wasn't noticed, it means I didn't do a very good job at Glasgow Rangers," said Souness - who was once sent off for Rangers at Celtic Park in 1987 - in an interview with BBC television on Saturday.

"I think, if I get a lovely hostile welcome, it will make me feel a lot better. It is a back-handed compliment. I expect it and I want it."

A moustachioed midfielder of fearsome commitment in his playing days at Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Sampdoria and Rangers Souness won 54 international caps for Scotland and is one of his country's most eminent sporting sons.

Aside from winning five English league titles, four League Cups and three European Cups as a player with Liverpool, he revitalised a flagging Rangers when he took his first role as player-manager there in 1986.

England players Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Trevor Steven and Ray Wilkins all joined Souness at Rangers and Scottish premier leagues titles predictably followed.

In helping Rangers to win three successive league championships, Souness ensured the club eventually equalled Celtic's much-cherished record of nine titles in a row in 1997.


Perhaps his most memorable contribution to Rangers was signing Maurice Johnston - a one-time hero among Celtic fans - in 1989 to end the Glasgow club's ancient policy of refusing to sign Catholics.

Souness underwent a heart bypass operation in 1992 but his energy has not been dampened by the passing of years.

He has said he would prefer Blackburn to stay in the English premier league this season rather than beat Celtic, given a choice, but one can be sure he would love to overcome his old foes in their all-British affair.

As if Souness's return to Glasgow is not enough, the reacquaintance of Celtic striker Chris Sutton with his former Blackburn team mates adds extra spice.

Sutton is fondly remembered in Blackburn. He netted more than 50 goals in five years at the club and helped them to win the English premier league title in 1995.

After a miserable year at Chelsea, Sutton joined Celtic for six million pounds in July 2000 and he has played a huge part in their success under manager Martin O'Neill.

"My five years (at Blackburn) meant a lot to me," he told reporters. "I enjoyed the area and in hindsight I shouldn't have left for Chelsea. The only good thing was that it brought me to Celtic."

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