IN an exclusive interview, we speak to former Blackburn Rovers manager Graeme Souness about the time he was infamously dropped for the first time in his career by Scotland.
FEW players can say they went their whole career without being dropped.
The seemingly irreplaceable Alan Shearer did not manage it, while Thierry Henry has spent the last six months sat on the bench for club and country.
But Graeme Souness was just 90 minutes away.
Weeks from embarking on a managerial career that would eventually see him lift the League Cup with Blackburn Rovers, Souness was dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson for the final group game of the 1986 World Cup.
Scotland went out and he never played for his country again.
But if there is still some sadness about the way his international career ended, in what was his third World Cup, Souness bears no grudges.
“I was never dropped in my entire career and that was the last game I could have been dropped for,” he recalls now.
“After that World Cup I was going to be player-manager at Rangers, and if I left myself out that was a different matter.
“It was disappointing, but I never blamed Fergie for it.”
Ferguson - himself only months away from leaving Aberdeen to take the helm at Manchester United - had agreed to manage Scotland at the World Cup following the death of Jock Stein.
Ferguson was already part of the coaching staff when Stein collapsed and died at the end of a key match against Wales a year earlier, which secured Scotland’s place in a World Cup play-off.
“The Wales game was a decider,” said Souness, then with Sampdoria after winning the European Cup three times with Liverpool.
“I was suspended for that game. Davie Cooper scored a penalty and with 15 minutes to go I went down to the bar because I couldn’t watch it in the stand.
“I went down to the dressing room when the players came back in after we had qualified, but Jock had collapsed.
“The celebrations soon became muted, and we heard very quickly that he had died. It was a real blow for all of us.
“After that there was a sense of doing it for Jock, and we beat Australia in a play-off to qualify for the World Cup.
“But I went into the tournament and I wasn’t well. I was normally 13st, but I was 11st 2lbs and I had no power.
“I struggled with the altitude, because it was 7,000 feet.
“I played against Denmark and didn’t play well, then I played against West Germany and didn’t play well.
“The last game against Uruguay was a game for experienced men, but I wasn’t well. I couldn’t blame Fergie for leaving me out.”
A 0-0 draw against Uruguay – despite their opponents having a man sent off after just 56 seconds, still a World Cup record – saw Scotland exit at the group stage after defeats in their first two games. For Souness, who announced his inter-national retirement days later to concentrate on his new career as a manager, it was a familiar story after also going out at the same stage in 1978 and 1982.
The midfielder’s solitary appear-ance in Scotland’s disastrous 1978 campaign came in victory over the Netherlands, and he was a regular by the time he scored against the USSR four years later.
Sadly, those high points both came on nights when Scotland went out.
“For me it was never about goals, or even playing well against the Netherlands,” he said.
“It was about the team doing well and unfortunately we didn’t get through. We had gone into 1978 with all the ballyhoo with Ally McLeod saying we were going to win the World Cup, and that tourn-ament was a real eye-opener for me.
“There was the drugs situation with Willie Johnston and a lot of other things going on.
“There were more news journalists there than sports journalists, and you knew they weren’t there for the football.
“I was rooming with Kenny Dalglish and we would just have our dinner and get back to the room, because we wanted to stay out of the way.
“In 1982 we drew 2-2 against the proper Russia team, not the Russia you have now, and we should have beaten them.
“Before that we lost 4-1 to Brazil in Seville in the middle of summer - and Seville in the middle of summer is really hot.
“Italy won the tournament but Brazil were the best team at that World Cup. That was one of the hardest games I ever played in.”
But, with Scotland now having failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1998, Souness believes the teams of his era should be viewed more kindly than they were at the time.
“I think expectations were too high,” said the 57-year-old, who recently announced his retirement from management.
“You look at it and England are a country with a population of around 55 million and Scotland have only five million, so it’s a numbers game.
“To do well at a World Cup you need three or four top men and half a dozen more very good players. We never had that.
“Now just to qualify would be an achievement.
“How they would take that now.”