GRAEME SOUNESS talks to BRYAN ROBSON ahead of Manchester United’s crunch clash with Liverpool

Graeme Souness and Bryan Robson played against one another countless times across the divide of the Manchester United and Liverpool rivalry. 

And that rivalry is set to play out once more, with United preparing for a trip to Anfield this weekend against their foes.  

While the Reds have enjoyed a position of superiority in recent seasons, it’s the Red Devils who come into the game in greater form, having secured their first piece of silverware in six years on Sunday. 

The resurgence of Marcus Rashford, the arrival of a bit of metal into the Red Devils team and a new leader in Erik ten Hag mean that United pose a greater threat than they would have last season. 

With just two days to go until the latest clash between Liverpool and Manchester United, we bring together the two great warhorses to discuss football, fashion and follicles…

Graeme Souness (centre) and Bryan Robson (left) compete at Old Trafford in 1983

Graeme Souness (centre) and Bryan Robson (left) compete at Old Trafford in 1983

Robson (centre), with a superb head of hair, pens his Manchester United contract on the Old Trafford pitch in 1981

Robson (centre), with a superb head of hair, pens his Manchester United contract on the Old Trafford pitch in 1981

GRAEME SOUNESS: It’s great to see you Bryan and I guess you’ll be jumping up and down! Your team, look like they’ve turned the corner?

BRYAN ROBSON: Yes, they’ve added a bit of metal in into the team. Lisandro Martinez has been a big part of that, as well as Casemiro and Raphael Varane. And those have brought the best out of some of the others. 

Luke Shaw’s probably had his best season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has improved. Marcus Rashford has lost the entourage he had – 12 people going about with him all the time. His head’s back onto football and look at the difference.

SOUNESS: Yes, you can see that. Rashford’s the best striker in the league at the moment.

ROBSON: Even when I go and watch training every now and again, he looks as sharp as a tack – everything’s just really quick and bright about his game. But it’s the whole team who are on it. 

Marcus could have cost us in first 20 minutes of the Carabao Cup final because Kieran Trippier kept running off him, which mean Manuel Almiron and Trippier were doubling up on Luke Shaw and Newcastle were getting a lot of crosses in. But then Martinez and Varane defended those crosses so well

SOUNESS: I think Martinez is one of those players who, if you’re playing against him, would annoy the life out of you. He’s a feisty so-and-so isn’t he?

ROBSON: He is. Typical Argentinian!

SOUNESS: ‘Argument in an empty house’ comes to mind! He’d have an argument with himself, looking in the mirror! But team-mates react to that. I thought he would be exposed when he arrived at United, because of his size and relative lack of pace. I have to hold my hands up, there. But he obviously has a real football brain and that ‘lead from the front’ mentality. 

You can see it in him. Everyone on the pitch, he wants to have an argument with. I love to see that. Casemiro’s got a bit of it in him, too. They’re the ones who can carry the flag. And then, behind them, you’ve got others suddenly ready to stand up and be counted. I like the way Erik ten Hag has reinstated discipline. These are the kinds of qualities I always remember when we went up against each for Liverpool and United.

ROBSON: It’s how I remember it. I was with West Brom when I first faced your Liverpool team and you were always the ones to beat. We did that at the Hawthorns in 1978. I nutmegged Ray Clemence with a back-heeler and we won 2-0! But then we went to Liverpool and were beaten. I can remember going late on Tommy Smith and for the next 15 minutes or more him absolutely cementing me.. Yes, we certainly got beat that day!

Marcus Rashford's goal against Newcastle in Sunday's final was his 25th for United this season

Marcus Rashford’s goal against Newcastle in Sunday’s final was his 25th for United this season

Robson argued that Rashford could have cost Man United the Carabao Cup at Wembley

Robson argued that Rashford could have cost Man United the Carabao Cup at Wembley

SOUNESS: It wasn’t that kind of rivalry between the two of us. I don’t ever remember you trying to do me or me trying to do you. There were some players that you can be suspicious of and we could all be naughty, given the right circumstances. 

But I don’t ever remember you ever having a real nip at me. You were always a strong and tough competitor but I always found you extremely honest. You were also my worst nightmare, as a holding midfield player. 

Souness played 347 times for Liverpool in a hugely successful career

Souness played 347 times for Liverpool in a hugely successful career

For me, the ideal player was someone who played in front of me. I didn’t want to be running back towards my own goal all the time. But you were so strong going forward, with great energy, wanting to get on the end of things. 

As a midfielder, you’re always are trying to impose yourself on your opponent, too. But I knew that I couldn’t sicken you, either! I’ve said to you before, I think we’d have been a formidable partnership in midfield.

ROBSON: That might have happened if Liverpool had signed me in instead of United! I heard they were in for me when I left West Brom, in 1981. Liverpool said that they’d go to £1.2million, but that was there was their lot – then United came in with £1.5million, West Brom accepted it and I was back working with Ron Atkinson again. I’d have loved playing alongside you but you’d have had to come to United!

SOUNESS: Ron did say to me once when I was at Liverpool: ‘Would you ever come to United?’ It was a throw-away remark – an alcohol fuelled question, I think! – and Liverpool would never have sold me there. I think once you’ve been at Liverpool or United, it would be nigh on impossible to make that move. So we just competed against each other instead.

ROBSON: That’s one way of describing you challenge on me in the 1983 Charity Shield! I would probably have scored if you hadn’t taken me down! The ‘professional foul’ they called it back then. There’s been a bit of talk about that over the years because I asked the ref not to send you off. That wasn’t what I wanted to see that day. We were winning 2-0, there were a few minutes to go and you and I had enjoyed a good contest.

United boss Erik ten Hag has already landed a first trophy at Old Trafford in his first season

United boss Erik ten Hag has already landed a first trophy at Old Trafford in his first season

Lisandro Martinez (right) has quickly settled into life at Man United following his summer move

Lisandro Martinez (right) has quickly settled into life at Man United following his summer move

SOUNESS: You just wanted me to stay on the field so you could kick me some more!

ROBSON: A lot of people have asked to me over the years about going up against you, as the hardest opponent in football at that time, and I’ve always made the point that the two of us never got into a war. 

My mentality was: ‘Play your football and enjoy your football, but you don’t go to war unless somebody starts to kick the ones who can’t protect themselves, or starts leaving a foot on you.’ 

There was retaliation from me with some players. Steve McMahon, who came to Liverpool, after you left, did used to leave his foot on people, including me a few times. But you and I never got into that. If the ball was there, 50:50, we would both just go for it.

SOUNESS: You knew who the rascals were. You knew who were the ones to watch. There were times when you would away from the challenge feeling pain but in those days it was a whole different ball-game. You never wanted to show you’d been hurt.

ROBSON: In those days the motto was ‘if somebody hurts you get up and don’t show it.’ Don’t roll about to try and get somebody booked or sent off.

SOUNESS: It’s the opposite now – not just simulation, which to me is cheating – but players screaming, which is making life so difficult for referees. To a man, they scream.

ROBSON: I noticed that most of all during Covid when there was no fans in. Incredible! Having said all that, there are times when I see people in pink boots, yellow boots, all that sort of thing and I think ‘if I was playing against somebody in boots like that, I’d just kick them.’ 

But then I think, ‘Hold on a minute. You sat in the hairdresser dress a shop with rollers in for two hours getting a perm in the 1980s!’ People remember me with the perm when I signed for United, at a table they put on the pitch. Gary Neville still reminds me about it. He also says my suit was minging that day, too!

SOUNESS: Seriously? Gary Neville, giving out fashion advice and giving you stick about your gear? We did give Terry McDermott and Phil Neal stick about their perms but I swear I didn’t have one. My hair was natural! But we were all under suspicion. I remember going home and my mum asking if I’d had a perm. I told her I hadn’t!

Souness (right) and Robson (left) competed in the 1983 Charity Shield ay Wembley

Souness (right) and Robson (left) competed in the 1983 Charity Shield ay Wembley

ROBSON: There was also that huge intensity around those United/Liverpool games we played, wasn’t there? Bob Paisley came onto our team bus for one journey onto Anfield. 

It was an idea of his and Ron’s because the previous time we’d driven up to the stadium, tear gas had been thrown at us. Liverpool’s own fans were the worst affected. We ended up bringing them into our dressing room to wash it out of their eyes

SOUNESS: Liverpool need to rediscover what they showed in that fabulous first half against Real Madrid, this weekend. The midfield needs to perform with an intensity we’ve not been seeing. 

For United, this is about a bigger picture than bragging rights or ending Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top four. Though they won’t want to talk about it, they will want the three points because they will still feel they have a chance of winning the title.

ROBSON: I’d say the title is within their reach but I do think Arsenal have got such an advantage now. You never write yourself off but us being in all these cups is a complicating factor. You keep trying. It’s always possible. The Treble winning season told us that. 

I do think Liverpool have got to beat United if they want to finish above us. If United get a result, I just don’t see them doing that. Liverpool’s drop-off has been sudden. 

One minute you’ve got leaders with that intensity and then all you lose the few of the lads, because they’re a bit older. The loss of Sadio Mane shouldn’t be overlooked. I really liked Mane. He was a warrior: aggressive, quick. I think Liverpool have missed him.

Tyrone Mings holds a pair of bright orange boots

Marc Cucurella is just one of a number of players to wear brightly coloured boots in the Premier League

Marc Cucurella (right) and Tyrone Mings (left) are just a number of players to wear brightly coloured boots in the Premier League

SOUNESS: I agree. We were talking about Martinez as a catalyst for wanting to be full of aggravation. Mane was that exactly that kind of presence for Liverpool, too. It will a great atmosphere at Anfield. 

Liverpool are ten points behind United but still have 45 points to play for and I still think they’re capable of finishing in the top four. 

United’s supporters in the last decade have been fantastic for a team who have not performed for them and it will be exactly the same for the Liverpool supporters, now. 

This is the biggest game in British football and they will make the atmosphere red hot for United. As always, it’s going to be a fascinating a prospect.

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