WHEN Graeme Souness speaks, the football world listens. So when he says the English Premiership is the best league in the world, you'd better believe it. After all, this is coming from a man who knows the game inside out, having played or managed (sometimes both) at the highest level in England (with Middlesbrough and Liverpool), Italy (Sampdoria), Scotland (Glasgow Rangers) and Turkey (Galatasaray). Now he is back in England, on the south coast to be precise, as manager of Southampton. 'I would say the Premier League is number one in the world,' the 43-year-old Scotsman told Premier Soccer in an exclusive interview this week. 'When I was in Italy (1984-86) and for some years after that, the Italian League was the best but the English League has caught up and overtaken it in terms of interest, the quality of players and also of officials, who are stronger than they used to be; this is good for the game because it's encouraging skilful players. 'Yes, it's a great time to be involved in English football.' Souness took over at Southampton in July and is already making his mark at The Dell, buying players from Norway, Israel, Australia and Holland. 'I'm enjoying it here because it's a very different challenge to the ones I've faced before,' added Souness, who knows that mid-table security and a good run in the FA Cup will be regarded as success . . . a far cry from the intensity of his previous managerial posts at Rangers, Liverpool and Galatasaray. The big time is back at The Dell tomorrow, though, as Southampton play host to defending champions Manchester United. Despite being in 17th place with nine points, the Saints' confidence is sky-high after recent impressive victories over Middlesbrough (4-0) and Sunderland (3-0). For United, of course, it will be their first league game since that 5-0 thrashing by Newcastle at St James' Park last Sunday - and Souness knows his side will be facing a backlash. 'It was a bad result for us,' he said. 'They were embarrassed by Newcastle and will be like a wounded animal. 'They also lost down here 3-1 last season so will be doubly motivated. 'There's never a good time to play Manchester United because they've got so many good players but this is certainly not the best time. 'But we had a good win ourselves last Saturday (3-0 at home to Sunderland) and are going in the right direction. 'It's easy to say our new players have done well over a short period but the acid test for them, and for all the foreigners here, is what they can achieve over a nine-month season. 'In most countries you can look at your fixture list and pick out the hard games but every game here is so physically demanding and played in a pressure-cooker atmosphere.' Souness has spent over GBP4 million in the past few weeks, including a club record fee of GBP1.3 million on Dutch defender Ulrich van Gobbel from Galatasaray and GBP1.2 million on Israeli international Eyal Berkowitz from Maccabi Haifa. Souness first saw Berkowitz when he was on holiday in Israel seven years ago and kept tracking his progress. 'A friend took me to watch a game and I was very impressed by one player who was only 17 at the time,' Souness said. 'He's a little midfielder who plays just behind the strikers and is extremely talented and gifted. He's got very silky skills and excellent technique - a crowd-pleaser. 'Again, he has done well in a short time but we'll see how he handles things when the pitches start getting heavy and cutting up.' Then there's Norwegian central defender Claus Lundekvam, a GBP400,000 signing from SK Brann who has drawn comparisons with the former Liverpool star Alan Hansen for the way he brings the ball out of defence. 'If he develops into half the player Hansen was, we'll have a good player on our hands,' Souness said. Souness has also brought in Norwegian striker Egil Ostenstadt (GBP900,000 from Viking Stavangar), Australian international midfielder Robbie Slater (GBP250,000 from West Ham) and much-travelled defender Richard Dryden (GBP200,000 from Bristol City). Against Manchester United tomorrow, the Saints are likely to line up as follows: Dave Beasant; Ulrich van Gobbel, Claus Lundekvam, Richard Dryden; Robbie Slater, Jason Dodd, Eyal Berkowitz, Alan Neilson, Simon Charlton; Egil Ostenstadt, Matthew Le Tissier. On the bench he still has Neil Maddison, Neil Shipperley, Gordon Watson, Jim Magilton and goalkeeper Neil Moss; Barry Venison, who has been with Souness at Liverpool and Galatasaray, is out with a back injury. 'Every manager wants his own players in and I am really happy with the ones I have got,' added Souness. 'We're building quite a strong squad and we've not finished yet.' Down on the south coast, the word is that it's a more mature, non-confrontational Graeme Souness in charge of Southampton. The sinner, constantly at odds with officialdom, has become a Saint. After a triple heart by-pass operation in 1992, he also now realises there is more to life than 22 guys kicking around a piece of leather.