Graeme Souness’ stubbornness on Man Utd’s Lisandro Martinez is showing him up as one of football’s dinosaurs
Graeme Souness has doubled down on his criticism of a footballer. Water is wet.
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Do you know why birds were able to survive the asteroid hit that killed off the dinosaurs? Adaptability. When the sun was blotted out by shrapnel and debris thrown into the atmosphere from the ensuing explosion, plants, then herbivores, then carnivores died away in a kind of Cretaceous domino run. By contrast, avian species, descended from maniraptora, had evolved beaks and spacious skulls that allowed them to crack open nuts and form comparatively intricate social structures. A bit like the regulars in your local Wetherspoons.
You get the impression that adaptability isn’t a word in Graeme Souness’ vocabulary. Here we have a man of granite traditionalism, hewn from an unerring belief in the virtues of convention and grit. Last year’s reveal that he has been following a vegan diet since 2018 was the kind of plot twist that M. Night Shyamalan has been aching to replicate since he wrapped on The Sixth Sense.
Domineering and omnipresent, Souness’ brand of bristling, dagger-tongued punditry is, at times, so overtly mulish that it has spawned a kind of cultish aura on social media. In particular, his perceived distaste for Paul Pogba has become a cultural touchstone comparable to Elma Fudd’s unrequited bloodlust for Bugs Bunny.
But now, with his muse peddling his pesky wares on the continent, it would appear that Graeme - a sort of exact equidistant point between Principal Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie - has a found a new spur to grind his gears and simmer his plasmas. Enter the fray, Lil’ Lisandro Martinez.
When the Argentine signed for Manchester United, he was met with a wave of hysteria that honestly bordered on the pathetic. Martinez is 5’9” tall. The rhetoric surrounding his arrival in England would have had you believe that Erik ten Hag had squandered £50 million on Jimmy Krankie.
It didn’t matter that Martinez had won 79 aerial duels the season before for Ajax, or that he had recorded a success rate of 70%, averaging more duels won per 90 minutes than Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof, or Eric Bailly. No, no, ‘El Carnicero’ - or ‘The Butcher’ - simply would not do because he was about three inches too short. The only time that anyone should kick up a fuss about three missing inches is if their trusted local pizza shop send the wrong-sized cheesy garlic bread - I will not forget and I will not forgive, Primo’s.
Since those initial ructions, however, Martinez has done a pretty astute job of making pundits eat their words, before then proceeding to observe them beadily as they wash them down with their misgivings. With each passing game, he continues to prove that his intelligence, anticipation, and aggression are more than compensatory for a relative lack of verticality. Indeed, nobody in a United shirt has made more clearances per 90 minutes than the South American this season, and only Maguire has registered more blocks.
But none of that is enough for Souness, seemingly. Speaking on talkSPORT recently, the Scot said: “That worry for me is still there. If you watch at set-pieces, he still uses a blocker or they use him on the near post. He’s not got the physique to take on the big guys and man-mark them.” That’s right, Graeme, don’t back down, double down.
Something that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, not just in football punditry, but in all walks of life, is that it is okay to be wrong. We all have opinions and we all make predictions. Sometimes they are incorrect or inaccurate. Sometimes matters beyond our control can change our initial perception of things, and can alter our viewpoint. I, for instance, was convinced that viral influencer Hasbulla Magomedov was just a sound little fella from Russia - and then he declared his support for Jair Bolsonaro in the recent Brazilian election. Now I no longer think that Hasbulla is a sound little fella from Russia. I think he is an apologist for alt-right egomaniacs.
Because that’s the thing, we have it in ourselves to adapt. We can grow and learn and reevaluate - but only if we are willing to swallow our pride and are only if we want to. Far too often, there are certain characters who dominate the rhetoric surrounding professional football who simply refuse to do so, who are so convinced of the divinity in their own judgment that they cannot fathom how they could ever be wrong.
Souness is often one of the worst offenders, and with each passing mast that he nails his colours to, the Scot diminishes his reputation as a truly great footballing mind just a little bit more. Perhaps he would be well-advised to remember that it was an inability to change that killed off the dinosaurs. Even the herbivores.