Wednesday 17 July 2019

Brendan knows that Stevie will do whatever it takes to succeed - and that makes him dangerous to Celtic

Expert view

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher celebrating after Liverpool’s victory over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Photo: Getty Images
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher celebrating after Liverpool’s victory over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Photo: Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

The first time I met Brendan Rodgers he offered me a job. After joining Liverpool as manager in 2012 he told me he wanted me on his backroom team. I accepted the offer.

The second time I met him he had changed his mind and decided to promote Mike Marsh from the Academy instead. I'm not sure what happened in those couple of weeks but I often wonder what might have been.

Pupil and teacher: Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images
Pupil and teacher: Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images

Maybe I would still be at Liverpool rather than working in the media. Maybe I would have been bitten by the coaching bug and going through the same emotions as Steven Gerrard this weekend, coming up against a manager I worked with and using all my experience of how he works to try and get the better of him.

I know how much Rodgers and Gerrard respect each other.

At the start of Brendan's Liverpool reign his coaching impressed us. It was not the easiest time to become Liverpool manager following a tempestuous few years for the club and at the start of a rebuilding process on and off the pitch. Stevie and I were in our 30s and past our peak.

Easing long-serving players out is not straightforward for any manager going into one of the world's biggest clubs - we are the last to accept it is over - but he had to do that. I was used sparingly in my final season as a player. I did not like it, but he was right.

Stevie went through the same before moving to LA Galaxy. His Anfield career was extended when Brendan gave him a holding midfield role.

There was a suggestion Brendan had a duty to help us make the move from playing to coaching, to keep us involved at Liverpool. He had no such obligation.

Brendan was not at Liverpool to help us become coaches, or determine our post-playing careers. He was there to be a successful Liverpool manager in his own right.

These are the kinds of decisions Stevie will have to make during his coaching career. He will have more understanding now he has crossed the line from pitch to dug-out.

Now my two ex-colleagues are rivals at Celtic and Rangers and there will be no love lost in Glasgow this weekend. There is no place for it there. They have shared memories from their time at Liverpool, but there will be no sentiment.

Rivalries If Stevie started his management career at any other club I am sure Brendan would say he is available to offer advice, but this could never happen at opposing ends of one of world football's biggest rivalries.

It is likely whoever finishes above the other will win the league.

Like any Old Firm game this is the one they will be least tolerant of losing, their history giving it an extra edge.

Their battle is great for Scotland and brilliant for British football generally.

In my eyes, Brendan is the best British Isles-born coach working today. He is the man Stevie must eclipse to fulfil managerial ambitions and many of his methods will be positively influencing training sessions at Rangers.

You can see some of Rodgers' ideas in the Rangers team. They prefer 4-3-3 and press high. Rodgers never gets enough credit for the job he did at Liverpool. He was closer than anyone in 28 years to winning the title for the club in a style the most progressive managers want to replicate.

Everyone seems to think the Liverpool title bid in 2014 was due to Luis Suárez, but Suárez was there three years before that runners-up campaign. It was the manager who set up the team to get the best from him. There is a debate in the Premier League about whether smaller clubs can play expansive, possession football against the big boys.

We should not forget Swansea's approach when promoted earned Brendan the Liverpool job. He believes players can be coached to play a passing game whatever the level.

He has made Celtic attractive to watch with, respectfully, a lower calibre of player he was used to at Liverpool. He could have done no more domestically than win every tournament he has entered in Scotland. It must have been disappointing for him he was not a genuine contender for the Arsenal and Chelsea jobs last summer.

I am not entirely sure he is judged solely on his coaching credentials, the top Premier League clubs still attracted to the lure of those who have led teams to the top four in La Liga or Serie A.

After two years of dominance, Rodgers will be motivated but wary of Rangers' emerging threat. He has most to lose if Gerrard is instantly successful. He will not be judged on the six trophies already won, but on being toppled by city rivals.

For all the pressure on Stevie, there is more to gain by taking on such a huge job at this point in Rangers' history when they are catching up.

When Stevie told me about the offer from Rangers I said, 'take it'. There is no ideal place to accept your first job.

Start near the bottom and people say you do not know enough about the lower leagues. Start at the top and you don't have the experience for a big job.

What you have to understand about Steven Gerrard is he lives for that high-pressure football environment. I don't see him leading smaller championship or League One clubs, but an institution with 50,000 passionate fans filling the stadium every week? That is his world. Glasgow is perfect for him.

When anyone told him to steer clear of Rangers because Celtic are so far ahead, it motivated him to take the job even more. "Bring it on," as he said in his first press conference.

He also saw the gap between them last season was just 12 points - not as huge as many perceive. It could swing with two Old Firm wins.

Like the greatest footballers, Stevie can not tolerate losing. At Rangers, even the least talented of teams win more than they lose.

We have seen enough to know how much a year working as an Academy coach has helped Gerrard, tweaking formations, not panicking when the game is changed by a sending-off and looking proactive on the touchline.

To be unbeaten after 12 games, including leading Rangers into the Europa League group stage, demonstrates his aura and leadership skills. He is already galvanising the club.

Sacrifices He has not joined Rangers just to dip his toe into management. This is his career now. He is prepared to make the sacrifices - leaving his family during the week - to make it work.

That is the difference between Gerrard and those of us who have moved into media. I was not prepared to commit everything to become a manager.

Maybe Brendan sensed that in 2012. He knows Stevie has the burning ambition to do whatever it takes to succeed as a manager, and that makes him dangerous to Celtic.

Deep down, I suspect Steven and Brendan imagine a time they will meet in a different environment.

There are not many bigger clubs than Celtic or Rangers, but to progress their careers they will aspire to join those with finances to compete for honours in England and Europe.

To get those jobs, they not only need to get ahead of each other but make an impression in European competition at their current clubs.

I have a feeling this will be the first of many touchline encounters, and not just in Scottish football.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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