Gerrard must be aware of Rangers challenges, expectations
Before he makes the biggest career decision since his playing days, the ex-Liverpool and England captain must be aware of the challenges and expectations that have proved too much for recent Rangers bosses. By Jamie Braidwood
The news that Steven Gerrard is in advanced talks to become Rangers’ new manager has come as a surprise to most.
It is being reported that Gerrard, the former Liverpool and England captain, again met with Rangers chairman Dave King on Monday. What started as speculation last week has developed into something far more serious, and it seems certain now that the 37-year-old will be unveiled at Ibrox sooner rather than later.
What shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, is Gerrard’s ambition to get into management as soon as possible. It is obvious that he has been keen to take on a senior position for some time, having spent this season balancing his work with Liverpool’s under-18’s with television punditry responsibilities.
After finishing his playing career in the MLS with LA Galaxy, Gerrard immediately held talks with MK Dons over a vacant managerial position back in November 2016. He eventually turned the role down, later saying the opportunity came “too soon”, and took up the position within Liverpool’s academy six months later.
It now seems that Gerrard is ready, with Rangers emerging as his likely destination. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said the club will support whatever decision Gerrard makes, while Alan Shearer said on Match of the Day on Sunday night that the Rangers job is a “no-brainer” for his former England teammate.
Gerrard’s ambitions are clear, but what might not appear so obvious to him is the challenge that awaits if he were to take the Ibrox role. Rangers are currently sitting 3rd in the Scottish Premiership, in only their 2nd season back in the top flight following administration and relegation to the fourth-tier in 2012.
They have made progress since those dark days but in that time their rivals Celtic have elevated to a new level of domestic dominance, the scale of which was further emphasised on Sunday as Celtic thrashed Rangers 5-0 to secure their seventh successive league title.
Under Gerrard’s former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, Celtic have been untouchable over the past couple of years. They are now only a Scottish Cup final victory away from an unprecedented ‘double treble’ and the gap between the two Glasgow sides, which was suggested to be narrowing only a few weeks ago, looks to be greater than ever.
If Gerrard was to become Rangers’ new boss, ending Celtic’s trophy run would be his main objective, but to even do that he’d first have to address a range of issues – such as refreshing a misfiring squad and moving on a number of mutinous senior figures – all under the cloud of continual financial uncertainty.
There are certainly easier jobs for Gerrard to walk into. From his television appearances, the Englishman has shown he is intelligent, and would be aware of the challenges that await him at Ibrox, but one thing he may not be prepared for is the unrealistic and unreasonable expectation to compete with Celtic and challenge for the title.
The pressure to do just that has arguably finished off all of Gerrard’s potential predecessors, from Mark Warburton to Pedro Caixinha to the current boss Graeme Murty. In the 11 Old Firm games since Rodgers arrived at Celtic, Rangers have failed to win any. Perspective on Rangers’ recent plight is rarely afforded in these situations – second best does not cut it in Glasgow.
Rodgers’ Record vs Rangers
- 15/09/16 Celtic 5-1 Rangers
- 23/10/16 Rangers 0-1 Celtic (LC SF)
- 31/12/16 Rangers 1-2 Celtic
- 12/03/17 Celtic 1-1 Rangers
- 23/04/17 Celtic 2-0 Rangers (SC SF)
- 29/04/17 Rangers 1-5 Celtic
- 23/09/17 Rangers 0-2 Celtic
- 30/12/17 Celtic 0-0 Rangers
- 11/03/18 Rangers 2-3 Celtic
- 15/04/18 Celtic 4-0 Rangers (SC SF)
- 29/04/18 Celtic 5-0 Rangers
Until he experiences it himself, Gerrard may also not be aware of the difficulty of the league. The Scottish game is often belittled and dismissed, especially in England, and it is often easy to get caught up in that narrative. It didn’t help that Rodgers arrived in Scotland and immediately went on a 69-game unbeaten run. In England this wasn’t given the credit it deserved, it was seen as another example of the league’s vast inequality.
The reality that Gerrard would encounter is a league that is deceptively competitive. Hibernian have emerged as a serious side under Neil Lennon, Kilmarnock have enjoyed an impressive run under Steve Clarke, Aberdeen have continually won enough games over the past three seasons to keep Celtic on their toes, while Hearts at Tynecastle is a difficult place to go.
Further down the league, St Johnstone, Dundee and Hamilton have all secured results away at Old Firm clubs this season and Motherwell have made two cup finals. At Rangers, Gerrard would be expected to win every game, something that is required not only to appease the fans but to sustain a title-winning pace.
Gerrard undoubtedly has the personality and prestige to be a successful football manager, but he cannot afford to get this decision wrong. Gary Neville, who worked as a coach within the England national team for several years following his retirement, took on too much too soon when he became Valencia boss in 2015. The experience has put him off going back to management for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, Gerrard sees himself as a future Liverpool manager. It would be a natural progression, but despite his legendary status, it’s not a job he can simply walk into. Every move he makes from now on will be closely watched and scrutinised, and he therefore must be aware of the challenges that await him before he makes his biggest career decision since his playing days.