When Graeme Souness left his native Edinburgh to join Tottenham Hotspur in 1970, much was expected of the young Scottish midfielder, not least from he himself. He repeatedly told the much-loved Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson that he was the best player at the club and that he deserved to start every week. Nicholson clearly had different ideas. Souness would go on to only make one appearance for Spurs, as a substitute in a UEFA Cup tie. He was quickly moved on to Middlesbrough in 1972.
In his 1984 book, ‘No Half Measures’, Souness elaborated on why his Spurs career failed to live up to the expectations. “I owe that North London club more than one excuse for the way I behaved while I was with them,” he said, “I was still impatient, and I still couldn’t be told… As usual, my attitude was the problem and I didn’t try hard enough to put matters right.”
A striking contrast between Souness’ situation and that of Everton’s new Italian striker emerged before The Toffees game against Wolves recently. It seems as if Souness is a specialist at highlighting a player’s attitude, even if it’s his own. The Scotsman, whilst working for Sky Sports claimed that Kean’s move from Juventus to Everton has set ‘alarm bells off’ in his head.
Souness continued: “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy, given that they’ve got an older strike-force you’re selling a 19-year-old who won’t be hurting you wage wise. They haven’t got £100 million plus for him.”
His flowing criticism was briefly abrupted as he quizzed Jose Mourinho on whether Juventus have a buy-back clause on Kean: “Do you know if they’ve got a buy-back clause, Juve?”
His knowledge, or lack thereof surrounding the details of the transfer, suggests that Souness is not in the greatest position to make such a scathing attack on Kean.
“It doesn’t make any common sense if you are Juventus,” argued Souness, “which would suggest his off-the-field activities are not the best.”
Souness wrapped up his point by comparing Kean to the once wantaway Arsenal striker, Emmanuel Adebayor: “Just about to enter his best years, Wenger sold him to City,” he said, “they’re not selling him because he’s not a very good footballer, it’s because of something not quite right with him.”
Souness has played for Sampdoria in Italy, whilst he has also managed Juventus’ neighbours, Torino. Furthermore, his own attitude problems, as previously alluded to, may provide him an insight into a teenage footballer’s mindset. This suggests that the Scotsman is well informed on football matters, and specifically Italian football matters to make a sound judgement on this issue.
That is not the case. Despite Souness’ pool of footballing experience, whether that be as a manager or a player, in England or in Europe, his opinion on Kean is both wrong and dangerous.
First off, Souness’ argument is littered by vague phrases allowing him firstly, to make his point by not actually researching what he is about to say first, and also so he cannot objectively be proved incorrect. ‘Off the field activities’ is indicative of this unsubstantial argument.
Souness’ first point that “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy” is most likely true. This summer they have signed Matthis de Ligt for close to £80 million. They’ve also signed a few Serie A defenders for upwards of £20 million: Crisitian Romero, Luca Pellegrini and Merih Demiral. Add to this the free signings of Aaron Ramsey, Gianluigi Buffon and Adrien Rabiot and it seems that Juventus are flexing their financial muscles once more.
However, Juventus are facing an uphill task with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations following their colossal signing of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. As a result, they have needed to balance the books somewhat. Kean was one of 10 Juventus players that were sold for £5 million or more. Most notably, their star right-back, Joao Cancelo was sold to Manchester City. So Souness is correct that Juventus are wealthy, but it is not a simple ‘black and white’ case.
It was also evident this summer that the club tried to offload Paolo Dybala to both Spurs and Manchester United; whilst Gonzalo Higuain was defiant in his wish to stay in Turin, despite Juventus’ wish for him to depart to Roma. Thus, this is not an issue over Moise Kean’s attitude, but Juventus’ desire to sell players that they do not view as integral to their plans.
Souness was perplexed as to why Juventus could not command a fee of at least “100 million” for Kean. Again, a little research into the situation and Souness’ worries would be cascaded. Kean only had one year left on his contract. His agent, Mino Raiola is also known to favour his players running down their contracts, so he can command a greater fee. This was seen in the case of Paul Pogba, who shares the same agent. So Juventus were either forced to sell now, or keep Kean for one more season, and lose him for nothing. For a club pressured by FFP, the latter option was clearly not viable.
His apparent guess that Juventus do not have a buyback clause on Kean is correct. There is no buyback clause, but the clubs share a good relationship, and the deal reportedly includes a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ which will allow Juventus to match any future offer for Kean.
Moreover, Souness failed to consider the situation from Moise Kean’s perspective. He wants to be a starter for a big European club, at Juventus he was not that- only making 13 Serie A appearances last season. It was rumoured that Arsenal were interested in Kean, but he rejected their advances as they too could not offer him first team football, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette already at the club.
Kean has featured in every Everton game so far this season, and he started his first Premier League game against Wolves at the start of September. His decision to move to Merseyside clearly seems to be highly charged by a guarantee of football.
Surely this is something that should be applauded, not looked down upon. A young prodigy who has chosen to move from the comfort of a European giant to a new country, all to gain more footballing experience, and to work his way up the footballing ladder. Yet this is something that Souness has chosen to lambast.
More importantly, Souness did not touch upon the abhorrent racist abuse that Kean was subject to, whilst playing in Serie A. In an away game against the infamous Italian club Cagliari, Kean, who had only just turned 19, was subject to monkey chants from sections of the home crowd throughout the match. Kean went on to score before holding out his hands in a passive celebration in front of the Cagliari supporters. Following the match, his team-mate, Leonardo Bonucci made the spectacular claim that Kean provoked the fans, and the blame was “50-50”. It would not be surprising if Kean felt that he was not welcome.
Perhaps Souness should have touched upon this fact, and how, although racism is still present in English football, it is a galaxy away from the situation in Italy. Just take the example from the Inter match on the same day that Souness made these comments. Former Man United striker, Romelu Lukaku was also subject to racist chants, once again, by Cagliari supporters.
Thus it is a much more delicate and serious situation than just the players “off the field activities”. Souness, whether deliberate or not, ignored this.
His comparison of Kean to Adebayor is arguably the most puzzling aspect of his entire argument. The two players are separated by six years from the time they departed their respective clubs. And Arsene Wenger actually wanted to keep Adebayor at Arsenal. Once more, there are holes in Souness’ argument.
To rub salt in the wounds, the Scot failed to discuss the transfer of Patrick Cutrone to Wolves. The situation has many parallels with that of Moise Kean’s transfer. Cutrone is also from Serie A, he also moved for a modest fee (£16 million), he is Italian, and he is young- only 21.
Similarly, he had no qualms about the attitude of Spurs’ Christian Eriksen, despite the Dane desperately seeking a move away from North London all summer.
“I don’t know him at all, I’m assuming he’s not been a problem around the place. I’d play him.”
He does not know Kean at all either.
Does Souness’ criticism of Kean have deeper racial undertones then? It would be wrong to accuse him of this. But his views should still be criticised, for implanting an idea into the vast audience that he has, that Moise Kean, a black footballer, has ‘attitude problems’ off of no basis.
Instead, Kean’s move to Everton should be celebrated. Firstly, the Premier League is getting a classy young striker, who will only improve. His courage to make the move from Italy to England at just 19 due to his desire to play first-team football should be commended, not criticised. The only “alarm bells” that should be ringing should be inside the heads of Premier League defenders, as they gear up to face Moise Kean this season.