At the time of writing Steven Gerrard has just guided his new charges into the group stages of the Europa League ensuring European football at Ibrox at least until the early winter. Early September though saw a bruising defeat to their city rivals in the first Glasgow derby of the season.
Where will the winter take Rangers?
Rangers will likely have a spring in their step and having achieved European qualification into the autumn months his next step will be to try and get closer to Celtic on the pitch.
Since the return of the team from Govan to the Scottish Premiership, Celtic have been so far ahead you could claim to have seen the Grand Canyon in meetings between the two Glasgow giants. Once again they were well beaten on 2ndSeptember 2018 and in spite of the final result being one nil, Celtic dominated with 75% possession in the first half alone, having more than double the amount of shots and limiting Gerrard’s Rangers to only 2 on target in the entirety of the match.
No one will have felt the impact of this result harder that Gerrard himself, but where does he go from here amidst all the pressure?
What pressure I hear you say, this is the man who single-handedly won Liverpool a Champions League in 2005, who has amassed over 700 top flight games and played countless times for his country. Most would say he doesn’t have the personality to wilt in the Glasgow fishbowl where many have drowned in the recent history of Rangers.
Born in a working class area of Merseyside, Whiston, in 1980. Gerrard due to his footballing ability was advised to join a Catholic school in his area as they had the better football team. His talents were clearly recognised then as they are now and he was recommended by a local PE teacher, subsequently Gerrard spent his formative school years at Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School despite not being a Catholic. This was so he could play at the highest level of school football in the area.
Complete success wasn’t immediate and it’s his staying power that may well be vital at his new club.
He failed to make the England schoolboy team but went on trial with Manchester United in order to force Liverpool to make a move. Signing his first professional contract, with his boyhood heroes, on 5th November 1997, at seventeen years old. He went on to make his debut a year later as a second half substitute against Blackburn before making his full debut a week later versus Tottenham.
His talents were recognised by scouts whilst playing for Whiston Juniors at the age of 9 but it took Liverpool until he trialled for Manchester United before they made their move.
He finally signed a deal with Liverpool and he never looked back despite admiring glances from Chelsea and the top Spanish clubs he never wanted to leave his heroes and was disappointed when that time eventually arrived.
A lack of a league title to his name will be the bug bear that no doubt strengthen his desire to do well as a manager. In terms of footballing success this is a guy decorated in medals from every other competition he played in as a Liverpool player.
If Gerrard takes his winners mentality and transfers it in to the Ibrox dressing room then competition to Celtic and the rest will have undoubtedly heated up.
Playing 710 times for his first love Liverpool scoring 186 goals in that spell and learning from individuals at the top of their profession will stand Gerrard in good stead. Guys like Houllier, the now Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, Klopp and even former Ranger Alex Miller will have enabled him to build up dossier after dossier on how to coach a good winning team.
What impresses me the most is his relaxed yet unforgiving attitude towards his players, his club, referees and the opposition and the press. He was lambasted for claiming a foul on Ryan Jack in the lead up to Olivier Ntcham’s goal in the September edition of the Glasgow derby but what manager doesn’t back his players.
Good managers know when to speak, when to shout, when to be patient and know how to motivate.
It appears Gerrard already has these characteristics in the bag.
In Rangers Europa League Play Off round match vs Russian cracks Ufa he berated the referee for the first time in his career. Rangers finished the game with 9 men but fuming after John Flanagan’s second yellow card and subsequent send off the normally mild-mannered Gerrard shouted “You can F****** book them too it’s not just us playing.”
Now you didn’t need to be a mouth reader to determine what was said but nor did you expect it from the Liverpudlian. For most managers this would be par for the course but for Gerrard this would feel like a bogey blotching his score card.
Of course he’ll need to remain calm and assured. As the season progresses the last thing you want to do as Rangers manager is show any weakness. The press, the opposition and even his own supporters would jump on that and it would be a long road back.
A private family man will need to address the stresses and strains of a Glasgow football culture steeped in hatred, bigotry amid infinite amounts of passion. A charismatic, football enthusiast is transferring his undoubted footballing talent in to the crazy world that is being a football manager or head coach in this day and age.
He wound down his playing career in the more salubrious surroundings of Los Angeles playing 38 times for Galaxy in a short stint over the Atlantic until Jürgen Klopp brought him back to Anfield where he began his coaching journey with the Reds under 18 side.
Not only decorated as a footballer, Gerrard as a person has honours to his name having been granted an OBE in December 2007, he’s a Freeman of the Knowsley borough and holds honorary fellowship of John Moore’s University as a recognition of his contribution to sport.
It’s these successful traits that Gerrard will lean on as his career passes. He’s also extremely loyal as Chelsea’s pursuit of him showed. He admits to thinking about a move but once he sat back and thought about it he decided to stay with HIS team. The passionate support of Liverpool is mirrored dramatically by the support of Glasgow Rangers and should the fans and the board show Gerrard the loyalty he deserves then they will be a match made in heaven.
As with every Scouser Gerrard has an overwhelming desire to succeed and uses the pain of the Hillsborough disaster to drive him on. His cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley died in the disaster at the age of 10. He was the youngest of the 96 who died.
Everything he does he dedicates to his relative.
In January 2017 he got the call he craved the most, a return to Anfield was on the cards and he was given a role as an academy coach where he proved himself every bit as good a coach as he was a player.
He successfully impressed Jürgen Klopp with his passion, his desire, his interest and his understanding of an academy coach. It wasn’t long until he was put in full charge of the clubs under 18s side and it’s there where he kept his feet on the ground before earning his special move to Rangers.
Youth director Alex Inglethorpe is quoted as saying “If I was to pick one individual who embodies the characteristics and values we are looking to instil into our organisation at Kirkby, it would be Steven Gerrard.”
Gerrard in his one full season of youth team coach guided his young charges to a respectable 3rd place in the league table. In the Europa Youth League Gerrard’s Liverpool were knocked out on penalties by Manchester City at the Quarter Final stage only after beating long-time rivals Manchester United in the last sixteen.
Rangers were linked to Ben Woodburn in the summer and he was one of the stand outs for Gerrard in his time as Under 18s coach. Gerrard failed to get him but has signed up Ovie Ejariaand the dynamic winger Ryan Kent.
His squad is the most balanced a Rangers one has been since they started back in League Two following their financial troubles. Two or three bodies for each position, each and every player capable of wearing the shirt something not easily said of Rangers players in the past couple of years.
Goalkeepers McGregor and Foderingham provide the top of a strong spine for the club. Goldson has been a breath of fresh air for the club and in competition with him you have Katic, Worral and McAuley. The spine is augmented by Ryan Jack, Scott Arfield with Lafferty and the enigmatic Alfredo Morelos leading the attack.
Gerrard has a squad of 25 players and he count on every one of them. He will, undoubtedly, bring a new found sense of organisation, order and a professionalism unseen at Ibrox for many a year. The synergy of such a squad can only create a positivity around the once damaged club.
He couldn’t do all this a lone ranger though and not without help Gerrard has immediately constructed a very strong backroom team. Well known faces to the Liverpool legend were appointed with trusted companions, experience and strong personalities all complimenting his style.
Well known Scotland internationalist Gary McAllister is Gerrard’s assistant: A character who Gerrard played a lot of important games beside in the Liverpool midfield.
Former Reds academy coach Michael Beale is now first team coach at Rangers and he has a great youth coaching pedigree at Chelsea and Liverpool supplemented by a nine month stint in Brazil as assistant manager of Sao Paulo from December 2016.
Upon his arrival Beale spoke highly of his colleague “I was very fortunate to spend some time with our manager when he was a player, so when you see that level day in day out, it opens your eyes to that level, so I have been very fortunate to be around some top people in the game.”
It’s this demanding nature that Rangers players will need to aspire to.
Tom Culshaw, former Liverpool under 18s assistant, is the Technical Coach at the Hummel Training Centre now and he too spoke of an understanding relationship which will hopefully benefit their new players.
“We have a good relationship and I think he trusts me to try and improve him as a coach and if there is anything where I disagree with what he is doing, I think he respects my opinions”
Respect is a buzz word in football at the minute none more so than Jose Mourinho’s outburst following Manchester United’s defeat to Tottenham earlier in the season but if a guy like Gerrard can’t win the respect of a newly, united dressing room at Ibrox then the club will struggle to gain that respect whoever is in charge.
The fitness coach of Liverpool under 18s has also followed his counterpart north of the border and he undertakes the role of Head of Performance.
Jordan Milsom: “The manager’s style of play I think is going to be quite aggressive, both in and out of possession. To play that way you need to be able to physically cope with that, not only within a game, but repeated games.”
A suggestion there that the players will need to be a lot fitter than under previous Rangers regimes.
Evidently Rangers play off result in Russia epitomised everything that Milsom spoke about. Playing the best part of 25 minutes in a European away leg with 9 men was a great result and one which allied to great fitness and concentration.
He’s been well backed both on and off the field but will he need to succeed to protect his reputation?
Of course he will want to and time will tell on that front but personal gain as well as his club’s gain may not be an overnight success story.
Given time, no financial struggles and a free reign alongside a seemingly open chequebook then the Liverpool legend will have a blank canvas upon which he can create his own masterpiece.
Rangers fans are incredibly hard to please and want the glory days to return tomorrow but I am sure they won’t be naïve enough to think it will happen in an instant.
Gerrard has landed on a pot of gold being named Rangers manager. Rangers have been a basket case of a club for a while now and Celtic have been miles ahead so the road between the two may not be easily closed and possibly, this current regime, may have to face a few diversions in their time at the club. This will keep his reputation intact even if he was to fail.
He has though taken control of his own destiny and with that Rangers’ fortunes. He’s started reasonably well and will hope by Christmas his newly assembled squad will be in a position to push their esteemed city neighbours who are perhaps beginning to show a sense of complacency given their lack of movement in the summer transfer window.
Qualification for the Europa League group stages was achieved, remarkably, by conceding only one goal in four away legs. A great feat for a club who leaked goals last season.
He needs to be afforded time but should he continue to improve Rangers and get them challenging on all fronts then his stock will rise immeasurably.
A win-win for both parties.
Rangers, the club and the players, need to buy into Gerrard and Gerrard needs to be aware of the stature of the club he’s at. If both parties marry up well then it could be the blossoming of a successful relationship but only through Christmas and in to the New Year will we see if real progress has been made.