When Graeme Souness left his native Edinburgh to join Tottenham Hotspur in 1970, much was expected of the young Scottish midfielder, not least from 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,” Souness 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, while working for Sky Sports, claimed that Kean’s move from Juventus to Everton has set “alarm bells” off in his head.
“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,” he said. “They haven’t got £100 million plus for him.”
His flowing criticism briefly paused as he quizzed Jose Mourinho on whether Juventus have a buy-back clause on Kean. His knowledge, or lack thereof the details of the transfer, suggests that Souness is not in the greatest position to make a scathing attack on Kean.
“It doesn’t make any common sense if you are Juventus,” Souness argued. “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, while he has also managed Juventus’ neighbors, Torino. Furthermore, his own attitude problems, previously alluded to, may provide him 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 experience as a manager and player, in England and in Europe, his opinion on Kean is both wrong and dangerous.
First off, Souness’ argument is littered with vague phrases that afford him the freedom to make his point by not actually researching what he is about to say, which ensures he cannot objectively be proven incorrect. The phrase “off the field activities” is indicative of this unsubstantial argument.
Souness’ first point that “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy” is true. This summer they have signed Matthijs de Ligt for close to £80 million and the following Serie A defenders for upwards of £20 million: Crisitian Romero, Luca Pellegrini and Merih Demiral. Add in the free signings of Aaron Ramsey, Gianluigi Buffon and Adrien Rabiot and it becomes obvious that Juventus have no issues signing large weekly wage checks.
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 their books. Kean was one of ten Juventus players sold for £5 million or more. With that said, Souness is correct that Juventus are wealthy, but that doesn’t paint the entire picture.
It was evident this summer that the club tried to offload Paolo Dybala to both Spurs and Manchester United while Gonzalo Higuain was steadfast in his wish to stay in Turin, despite Juventus’ wish for him to depart to Roma. This is when you start to realize that the issue at hand is not over Moise Kean’s attitude, but Juventus’ desire to sell players they do not view as integral to their plans.
Souness was perplexed that Juventus did not command a fee of at least 100 million for Kean. Again, a little research into the situation and Souness’ worries would have been erased. Kean only had one year left on his contract. His agent Mino Raiola is also known to favor his players running down their contracts, so he can command a greater fee. So, Juventus were either forced to sell immediately, or keep Kean for one more season with the risk of losing him for nothing. For a club pressured by FFP, there was only one viable option.
Souness’ 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 that will allow Juventus to match any future offers 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 but only made 13 Serie A appearances last season. It was rumored that Arsenal were interested in him, but Kean 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. Kean is a young talent who chose to move from the comfort of a European giant to a new country, all to gain more experience and work his way up the footballing ladder. Yet Souness has chosen to lambast him.
Most importantly, Souness did not touch upon the abhorrent racist abuse that Kean was subject to while playing in Serie A. In an away game against the infamous Cagilari, 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 celebration in front of the Cagilari supporters. Following the match, his teammate Leonardo Bonucci made the spectacular claim that he provoked the fans, and the blame was “50-50”. It would be no surprise if that moment in particular pushed Kean over the edge in his decision to leave.
Souness should have touched upon the racist abuse Kean endured, and how, although racism is still present in English football, it is a galaxy away from the situation in Italy. Just take what happened at the Inter Milan match on the same day that Souness made his comments. Former Man United striker Romelu Lukaku was also subject to racist chants by, you guessed it, Cagilari supporters.
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. Plus, Arsene Wenger actually wanted to keep Adebayor at Arsenal.
And we can’t forget the fact that Souness failed to mention the transfer of Patrick Cutrone to Wolves. The situation has many parallels with that of Kean’s transfer. Cutrone is also a young, up-and-coming Italian who moved from Serie A to England for a modest fee (£16 million).
Does Souness’ criticism of Kean have deeper racial undertones, then? Maybe, but it’s impossible for us to truly know. Nevertheless, his views should be criticized, as they implanted the baseless idea into the Sky Sports audience that Moise Kean has “attitude problems.”
At the end of the day, Kean’s move to Everton should be celebrated. The only “alarm bells” that should be ringing are inside the heads of Premier League defenders as they gear up to face Everton’s new No. 27.