MX23RW : Friday, February 22 08:55:48

On this day: Benfica appoint Graeme Souness

Eighteen years ago today, former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness was appointed the new manager of Portuguese club Benfica.

During the late 1990s, there was somewhat of a British invasion on Benfica.

Scott Minto, Brian Deane, Michael Thomas, Dean Saunders, Mark Pembridge, Steve Harkness and Gary Charles all arrived in Lisbon, thanks largely to the man that was placed in charge of the team 18 years ago today.

One of Dr Joao Vale e Azevedo's key promises during his electoral campaign was that he would secure the services of a manager that he believed would return the good times to the ailing club. It turned out that the boss in question was Graeme Souness, who had recently left Serie B side Torino after only four months at the helm.

Prior to the Scot's arrival, Benfica had embarked on a five-game winless streak and also exited the UEFA Cup at the first-round stage at the hands of French side Bastia.

However, upon his appointment, Souness was in defiant mood when he said: "My aim is to play soccer the fans enjoy. We're only eight weeks into the season and Benfica still have a chance of the title."

Almost immediately the club's debts started to spiral out of control, but to Souness's credit, on the pitch he was able to guide the team to a second-placed finish and Champions League qualification, which sparked the start of his British spree.

Minto was already at the club when Souness joined up, with striker Deane arriving in early 1998. The rest of the contingent arrived after that, but it's hard to suggest that any of them were a success in the Portuguese capital as the wheels started to fall off the Souness machine.

The team were booted out of the Champions League in the group stages following a harrowing defeat to minnows HJK Helsinki, while a number of players - including a young Nuno Gomes - were critical of Souness's tactics. The fact that he also loaned out Deco, rather than play him, did not help the former Liverpool midfielder's cause.

Results and performances were so negative as the 1998-99 season wore on that supporters would frequently jeer Souness and his players, particularly those that he had signed.

The situation came to a head in April 1999 when Souness was first informed that he would be replaced in the summer by Jupp Heynckes, then placed on gardening leave before he was finally locked out of the training ground by the president. Unsurprisingly, soon after Souness departed, so did most of the British players that he had recruited.

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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City27212474205465
2Liverpool26205159154465
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs26200654252960
4Manchester UnitedMan Utd26156552351751
5Arsenal26155653371650
6Chelsea26155645291650
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2611693433139
8Watford2610793434037
9Everton2796123639-333
10West Ham UnitedWest Ham2696113239-733
11Bournemouth26103133747-1033
12Leicester CityLeicester2695123134-332
13Crystal Palace2676132734-727
14Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2676132839-1127
15Burnley2676132947-1827
16Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2667132234-1225
17Cardiff CityCardiff2674152447-2325
18Southampton2659122844-1624
19Fulham2645172558-3317
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2625191448-3411

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