Steven Gerrard at Rangers – the inside track on the Liverpool legend's first six months at Ibrox
Posted On March 22, 2019
The former England captain has already made his presence felt in Glasgow and now he’s eyeing a first Old Firm victory
Steven Gerrard was under no illusions whatsoever. His first senior role in management was still weeks away, but the Liverpool legend knew exactly what was lying in wait.
“A bit of time off, and then the mad house,” said a smiling Gerrard, sat aboard a flight to Kiev in May. He was heading to watch Liverpool in the Champions League final, part of BT Sport’s punditry team. After that, it was time for the real work to start. “Looking forward to it,” Gerrard told reporters and well-wishers en route to the Ukraine.
That work has been as intense as he anticipated. Thirty-seven games across three competitions, 10 permanent signings and five loan deals, highs, lows and the steepest of learning curves. No easy introduction, even for someone of Gerrard’s stature.
It has been, in his own words, “a rollercoaster ride” but would he change it? “Not for anything,” he insists. The biggest thrills could be still to come.
If Rangers beat Celtic at Ibrox on Saturday they will not only end a run of 12 Old Firm games without a victory; they will also ensure they end 2018 level on points with their greatest rivals. They’ll have played a game more, but it would still be a significant milestone given the club’s journey over the past decade.
Not since 2011, prior to their decline into administration and eventually liquidation, have Gers fans had a title challenge to get their teeth into. After just seven months in Glasgow, Gerrard’s impact is there for all to see.
That won’t surprise anybody who witnessed his remarkable playing career, of course. Nor those who followed him during his year in charge of Liverpool’s under-18 team. Gerrard the player was something special, and Gerrard the manager carries many of the same key traits. He demands, he leads, he inspires. He sets high standards and he craves success.
“In terms of targets, I just want to win,” he told his first press conference back in May. “That’s my buzz, my demand.”
His start has been a positive one. Rangers have won 11 and lost just three of their 20 league games so far, and Gerrard oversaw the longest unbeaten European run in the club’s history as he navigated his way through the Europa League qualifying rounds and into the group stage. Only narrow defeats to Spartak Moscow (4-3) and Rapid Vienna (1-0) denied his side a place in the last 32.
“People always ask me; is Steven a coach or is he a manager?” says Michael Beale, part of Gerrard’s coaching staff. “He’s very much in the leader/manager role.
“We’ve had a good start at Rangers so far, and that’s something I put down to his personality and how he holds the group when he communicates.”
Beale, a highly-rated youth coach, was taken with Gerrard from Liverpool, along with Tom Culshaw, Rangers’ technical coach, and Jordan Milson, their head of performance. Assistant manager Gary McAllister and goalkeeping coach Colin Stewart complete the first-team setup, with Gerrard happy to delegate among his trusted lieutenants. “He’s a very talented field coach,” says Beale. “But he likes to stand back and see the whole group. That means he’ll see things that I’ll never see.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, of course. Defeat to Aberdeen in the League Cup semi-final denied Gerrard a first shot at silverware, while their performance in losing narrowly to Celtic in the season’s first Old Firm clash suggested that the gulf in quality between the two teams remains.
Disciplinary issues have dogged Gerrard’s early months as a manager. Rangers have collected no fewer than eight red cards this season, with top scorer Alfredo Morelos responsible for three of those alone. “We aren’t a dirty team,” says Gerrard, but successful teams should certainly not be playing with 10 men so often.
Morelos, with 20 goals in all competitions, is the key man. Gerrard went public this week, denying that the Colombian would be sold in the January transfer window. He knows he can ill-afford to lose the combustible 22-year-old; Rangers’ second leading scorer is their right-back, and captain, James Tavernier.
Recruitment so far has been mixed. Goalkeeper Allan McGregor and centre-back Connor Goldson have been clear successes, while midfielders Lassana Coulibaly and Scott Arfield also fall into that category. More, though, might have been expected of the likes of Kyle Lafferty, Eros Grezda and Ovie Ejaria, a young midfielder signed on loan from Liverpool, who has since returned to Merseyside.
Part of Gerrard’s make-up as a person is his ongoing quest for perfection, and his inability to hide his feelings when things aren’t as he wishes. That has been clear in some of his public statements, in which he has criticised his players and, on more than one occasion, suggested he will look to bring in better ones if they fail to perform. Rangers are expected to be busy themselves in January, with forwards and wide players high on the agenda. Turning draws into victories will be key if they are to sustain their challenge in the New Year.
Gerrard was critical of his team after their recent win at St Johnstone, with his comments that “we shouldn’t have to work that hard to win at places like this” causing something of a stir in the media. Gerrard, for his part, denies he meant any disrespect.
As for this weekend, he will be hoping for a more positive showing than he got from his team at Celtic Park back in early September. Then, an Olivier Ntcham goal was enough for Rodgers’ side, on a day when Rangers’ attacking threat was minimal.
It should be different in front of an expectant Ibrox, who are eyeing a first home Old Firm win since March 2012, prior to the liquidation of The Rangers Football Club. Their only success in 14 meetings since came via a penalty shootout in the Scottish Cup semi-final in 2016. Typically, Rangers went on to lose the final anyway.
If Gerrard’s side, reformed, re-built and re-energised, can end that long wait, it will underline the work he is doing in Glasgow. He took on a hell of a challenge when he walked into Ibrox, but the rookie manager is making a more than decent fist of it so far.