Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness has been labelled ‘uneducated and clueless’ by an Aston Villa groundsman after claiming Liverpool’s shocking 7-2 defeat on Sunday night was down to the length of the grass.
Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League champions saw their perfect start to the season end abruptly at Villa Park, with Ollie Watkins scoring a hat-trick on an unforgettable night for the home side.
But Liverpool legend Souness, who played for and managed the club, bizarrely blamed the Reds’ poor performance on the state of the pitch, claiming that Villa groundstaff had left the grass longer in order to slow the visitors’ speed of passing.
It was not the only moment of controversy for Souness during the broadcast, as Sky apologised live on air for his describing of Erik Lamela’s theatrical reaction to being struck by Anthony Martial as ‘very Latin’.
Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness claimed Aston Villa groundstaff left the grass longer
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk challenges Ross Barkley for the ball at Villa Park on Sunday
‘What I would say, Villa, and it’s the same for both teams, I think they’ve left the grass longer than normal to slow Liverpool’s movement,’ Souness said while working as a pundit for Sky Sports.
‘All the top teams want short grass, a fast pitch. That doesn’t look like a fast pitch to me.’
Souness’ comments were described as ‘sour grapes’ by presenter David Jones during Sky’s live coverage, but they also sparked a backlash from Eddie Mills, who is a member of Villa’s match-day groundstaff.
Villa striker Ollie Watkins (right) celebrates after completing his hat-trick against Liverpool
Mohamed Salah (centre) and James Milner (left) appear dejected after Villa’s seventh goal
Mills, 50, took aim at the former Rangers midfielder on Twitter, insisting that he had insulted all groundsman with his half-time rant.
‘Graeme Souness’s uneducated comments about the villa pitch are insulting to all the massively hardworking groundsman up and down the country who put their hearts and souls into their proud work! #clueless,’ Mills wrote.
Mills, who is a former course manager at Edgbaston Golf Club, has worked on Villa’s pitch for the last nine years and is a lifelong fan of the club.
A giant screen at Villa Park displays the final scoreline after Liverpool’s capitulation on Sunday
As of 2014 he had not missed a home game in 25 years and he also attended every Villa away match between 1991 and 2005.
Speaking about his move from fan to member of the club’s groundstaff, Mills told the Birmingham Mail: ‘It was a bit strange at first, being on the pitch and seeing the Holte End in all its glory, but you get used to it.
‘It’s still a real privilege to be able to work on the pitch. I’ve also done some work at Wembley in the past few seasons and I was looking after the pitch for the Carling Cup final and FA Cup semi-final in 2010, when Villa were there. So that’s a surreal experience.’
Liverpool’s defeat was the first time the previous year’s champions have conceded seven goals in the Premier League era – a landmark last hit in September 1953 when Arsenal were beaten 7-1 by Sunderland.
Earlier, while analysing Manchester United’s 6-1 demolition by Tottenham, Souness took aim at Lamela’s behaviour in the incident which saw Martial sent off.
Lamela and Martial were involved in a scuffle while waiting for a first-half corner to be taken, but it was Lamela who made the most of Martial’s swipe, falling to the floor.
Souness branded this ‘pathetic’ and ‘very Latin’, and insisted ‘Brits do it differently’.
Tottenham legend Ossie Ardiles, an Argentine, was one of those who felt insulted by the comment. ‘I take exception to the “Latin” comment of Graeme Souness about Erik Lamela,’ Ardiles said on Twitter.
He added, alongside a video of a vicious stamp by Souness during his playing career: ‘Stereotyping all Latin football players in this way is grossly unfair. It would be the same as saying that this so-called tackle represents the “British” way – which it doesn’t.’
Sky had to apologise for Souness’s earlier comments about Erik Lamela’s behaviour being ‘very Latin’, after Tottenham’s midfielder (floored) reacted to Anthony Martial’s swipe at him
Sky Sports presenter David Jones later said: ‘Now I have to say before we go, earlier in the show we were critical of Erik Lamela’s part in Anthony Martial’s sending off in the Manchester United-Spurs game.
‘We’d like to apologise for any offence that was caused and the stereotyping of the Latin culture.’