In the mid 1980s the arrival of Scottish international midfielder Graeme Souness at Sampdoria signalled the start of the club’s rise to become one of Serie A’s more glamorous clubs. I Blucerchiati, the Blue-ringed, had been promoted to Serie A two seasons prior in 1982 and players like Roberto Mancini, Pietro Vierchowod, Gianluca Vialli and Trevor Francis soon signed to help contribute to Samp’s inexorable rise.
They won their first major trophy in Souey’s first year, lifting the Coppa Italia in 1984-85, via home and away victories over Milan. In the first leg of the final, amazingly four Brits played, with Souness and Francis opposite former Manchester United and England midfielder Ray Wilkins and England striker Mark Hateley. However, it was Souey who scored the only goal of the game, which signposted the shape of things to come.
Francis and former Middlesbrough and Liverpool star Souness proved to be an excellent combination and in 1985 Samp were inspired to finish in a previously unprecedented fourth spot in the league. Displaying all the battling qualities he learned in Scotland and England, Souey marshalled Samp’s midfield to perfection. However, his fiery temper and rumours of infighting culminated in his decision that Samp was not the club for him and he left after two seasons, 56 games and eight goals.
A few years later he tried his hand as a commentator on Channel 4’s legendary Football Italia programme, a role in which he proved to be something of an expert. I remember him at the start of the 1994-95 season correctly predicting that Juventus would be crowned Serie A champions and that Parma and Lazio would finish second and third while Reggiana, Genoa and Brescia would be relegated.
He also predicted that Alessandro Del Piero, the man who had recently destroyed Souey’s team Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League, would soon be the talk of Europe.
Talking to him around this period, Souness said he loved his role with Channel 4. “It was great to be involved again with the Italian scene,” he insisted. “I thoroughly enjoyed my days in Genoa both on and off the field. Sampdoria was unique in Serie A in that it was a family club.
“We had a great President in Paolo Mantovani and he treated everyone like his own son. It’s a lovely club in beautiful city. I was lucky enough to be there and I can honestly say it was one of the best times in my career [Some statement when you think what he won with Liverpool]. I still keep in touch with what’s going on over there through the football papers they have over there.”
Souness was also able to put elements of the Italian game into practice when he became a manager. “I enjoyed training over there,” he recalled. “ I learned a lot from their way and the level of preparation, the pace of everything was fantastic.”
Talking at Serie A’s heydey in the 1990s, Souey also maintained that watching Italian football brought home the simple truth that their players were more comfortable on the ball and he particularly maintained that Serie A defenders appeared to be much more confident about taking on opposition players.
“It was something I admired,” he emphasised at the time. “There was more time on the ball. Forwards never really pressured you or closed you down as they would over here. The result is giving defenders confidence to express themselves on the pitch. The first touch is very important.”
Italian players then as now have an ability to control the ball with one touch, but the whole environment, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, was different and conducive to taking things a little slower and spending more time on technique.
It was aspects like this that had Souness at the time maintain that Serie A was easily the best League in the world and I for one was not about to argue. “I think that Italian football is such that every team has got players of great promise,” he said. “I think that is one of the attractions of Italian football. Look at most teams - Milan, Parma, Samp - they have players who come from all over the world. Basically it is the best League in the world. You look at a team and whether it’s at the top or the bottom they all have world class players.” Amen to that Graeme.