There won't be what the rugby commentator, Bill McLaren, used to call ''ill-mannered booing'' reserved for Graeme Souness at Parkhead on Thursday, will there? I'll say this for Celtic's imminent UEFA Cup tie against the erstwhile mustachioed Gauleiter's Blackburn Rovers: I haven't looked forward to such a football match in years.

Because it is Souness, of course, coming back to Glasgow, the sense of theatre is heightened. Souness is returning to a stadium in which, having got through his ritual maiming and been red-carded the last time he played there, his Ibrox players often seemed to do likewise.

Today, Souness is a changed man, but, unless you are one of the hospital cases whom he dispatched from a football field on a stretcher, you can't help sniggering at the temerity of his past. ''I'd like to apologise for my players' conduct,'' he once said solemn-voiced after a troop of his Rangers players had been red-carded at Parkhead, his tone suddenly Mother Theresa's even though his face remained Saddam's.

Beyond the memory of mere bloodshed, there is a finer subtlety about Souness returning to Scotland, simply because, like the journalist, Andrew Neil, he is possessed of a pawky anti-Scottishness: the little country, the land of hammer-throwers, the place he bid good riddance to when he left Edinburgh at 18 to play for Spurs and build a career at Liverpool.

After London, England, and Italy with Sampdoria, Souness had a faint disdain for his home nation, and only the fact that a great man, Jock Stein, was in charge of Scotland kept him interested in earning international caps. Thus, when I read of him babbling at the weekend about what ''a fabulous place Scotland is'' I knew this man, at 49 years old, had lost some rage along with at least three shrivelled arteries.

Souness is also to be admired, not just for a fascinating character which keeps everyone guessing, but for his prowess as a manager, which today is not in question. You certainly couldn't say that the day he walked out of Ibrox in 1991 towards the mayhem and carnage he would imminently bring to Liverpool.

His breadth of experience, both on and off the field, is astonishing, and even limiting that perspective to football still places him among the most fascinating Scots of our time. He has coached in Scotland, England, Italy, Portugal and Turkey. He has grabbed the big institutions, such as Rangers, Benfica and Galatasaray, and wrung them in his angry hands. It was when he arrived and what he achieved at Southampton, though, that convinced you Souness had changed.

Nearing the last days of the Dell, a humbled Souness at a humbled club bought Eyal Berkovic and Egil Ostenstaad and introduced thoroughness and astuteness to Southampton's play. A toiling club, they survived that Premiership season in 1997, and people suddenly began to admire the way Souness had become better at his craft.

Today at Blackburn the evidence is unarguable. There isn't a sentient observer in England who doesn't regard Souness as a good manager and motivator. On Thursday at Parkhead we will witness a re-built Blackburn team which can play good football, all the while being driven on by the famed wrath belching from their dugout.

He was always different. He was always the midfield hard man who rather fancied himself as a ballet critic. The first time I met Souness he was bending over a vase of flowers and inhaling the fragrance. A day later, of course, he would be hatcheting a Siggi Jonsson or a Lica Movila (the latter the most overlooked of all Souness' victims . . . the Dinamo Bucharest midfielder whose jaw Souness broke in two places behind the referee's back in the 1984 European Cup semi-final).

He is still at war with authority, and, just occasionally, other managers. Most of us, though, have cause to celebrate his existence and are living for the moment when he emerges, quietly snarling, from the Parkhead tunnel this week.

Being Souness, of course, he will smile.