Steven Gerrard is a Premier League icon, but that doesn’t matter much to Aston Villa fans. It didn’t matter much to Rangers fans either when the former Liverpool captain took charge as manager in 2018, even as journalists told them they were fortunate to have a figure of such standing at the club.
The same argument will likely be made to Villa supporters if Gerrard is appointed their club’s new manager – an announcement is reportedly close. They should be excited about this news, but not because Gerrard was such a good player. The 41-year-old is also one of the best young managers in the country.
It didn’t take long for this to become apparent at Rangers. While it took Gerrard three seasons to lift his first league title, and trophy, in Scotland, the turnaround in the Ibrox club’s fortunes witnessed under the former midfielder has been remarkable. Progress was gradual, but undeniable.
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Rangers finished 12 points adrift of Celtic, and in third place, the season before Gerrard’s arrival. If indeed the 41-year-old is to call time on his spell at Ibrox this week, he will leave the club as Scottish football’s predominant force, four points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership as defending champions.
If Villa fans are not convinced by Gerrard’s domestic record as a manager north of the border, they should look at his record in continental competition. Having not played in Europe for seven years prior to his arrival, Rangers have qualified for the group stages of the Europa League in each of the last three seasons.
Not only this, Rangers, who made the last 16 of the Europa League last season, have lost just eight of the 51 European games they have played with Gerrard at the helm. This is largely due to Gerrard’s ability as an organiser. Rangers have been defensively vulnerable at times this season, but on the balance of the last three years Gerrard’s team have been solid.
This is a quality that surely led the Aston Villa hierarchy to Gerrard as someone who could resolve their short-term problems. There is certainly enough talent at the club to steer well clear of relegation, but Villa must accept the reality of their situation. An organiser, like Gerrard, might settle things.
Tactically, Gerrard is a good fit for the West Midlands club. His Rangers team used their full-backs for width with two central attacking midfielders supporting a central striker. This is good news for players like Emi Buendia and John McGinn, but perhaps not for Leon Bailey – a winger. Gerrard has also demonstrated a flexibility in using a front two when his side will have enough control with two central midfielders.
That Aston Villa have reportedly secured Michael Beale and Gary McAllister as part of Gerrard’s coaching staff from Rangers is important. The three offer different things with Beale, who has worked at Chelsea, Liverpool and Sao Paulo, widely considered the brains behind the scenes at Ibrox.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard with the Scottish Premiership trophy.
Image credit: Getty Images
Gerrard has experience of working under a Director of Football, as he will be asked to do at Aston Villa where Johan Lange shapes transfer policy, and is at a point in his managerial career at which he appears ready to test himself in the Premier League. Villa Park is a good destination for him.
Some might argue that Gerrard could have stayed at Rangers to retain their Scottish Premiership title and lead the club into the Champions League, but the case of Brendan Rodgers, who left Celtic on the brink of an historic Treble Treble to take over at Leicester City in 2019, proved how the right opportunity doesn’t always come at the right time.
Replacing Gerrard will be an almost impossible task for Rangers. This is a mark of the impact he had north of the border and should encourage Aston Villa that they have picked the right manager to take them forward. If things go well it might be them facing the impossible task of one day replacing Gerrard if Liverpool come calling.
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