Monday 16 September 2019

Don't mock Gerrard's Rangers ambition

Liverpool legend clearly showing he won't be content with easy life on pundits' couch

Steven Gerrard, who has been strongly linked with the vacant Rangers job, has to make his own judgements and mistakes to truly grow as a coach. Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside
Steven Gerrard, who has been strongly linked with the vacant Rangers job, has to make his own judgements and mistakes to truly grow as a coach. Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside

James Lawton

All those pouring scorn on the idea that Steven Gerrard accepts the Rangers job, suggesting that instead of finding a challenge he has lost his marbles, should take a brief look in the mirror. If they do it hard enough they may not like what they see.

They might just see a failure of nerve, an unwillingness to take a chance on themselves.

Gerrard, everyone knows, has not been offered any kind of football Shangri La.

Rangers have been an iconic basket-case for more years than some of their more ardent supporters have been able to bear.

The best of their players would not sniff the chance of a first-team spot down the road at Celtic Park. In the Scottish scene they still statistically dominate. Historically, they are the down-at-heel aristocrats, the ruling class that time has passed by.

So why would Gerrard even dwell for a moment on the possibility of taking his first managerial job at a place which inhabited such a vastly superior planet when another great Liverpool player, Graeme Souness, decided to launch his career there in 1986?

It is reasonable to believe that he craves again the adrenalin that fuelled him all those years when he was one the world's best midfield players, when he inhaled the passions of Anfield and every game had a sharp edge of meaning.

No doubt he has considered the handicaps, such as a limited budget, an anarchic boardroom, the vast gap that now separates Rangers from the Celtic of his former boss Brendan Rodgers - and that apart from a few months tracing the steps of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, his only experience is in working to shape the Anfield U-18 team.

Yet, also there is, clearly, an insistent, impatient desire.

It is to be back at the heart of the grown-up action and already he has been candid about the impact of Klopp's tutelage of a Liverpool legend.

Klopp told him that he did not want him hanging at his shoulder for too long. He had to make his own judgements - and his own mistakes - because it is the only way a winning coach can truly grow.

This is where much of the derision over Gerrard's eyeing of the possibilities Rangers offer him is surely misdirected. Rangers cannot compete seriously in the transfer market, they cannot splash out on the sure-fire core of a title-contending team, but they hope they can bring to Ibrox a figure who will command respect the moment he walks into the dressing room.

He may not bring with him a set of cunning, time-tested plans but he can transmit the exhilarations of improving a team, and improving yourself as a proud and professional player, of seeing something better at the end of the road. And he can do this as easily as he breathes.

Is Gerrard really to be sneered at for entertaining such an opportunity at a football club which so desperately needs to win back at least a touch of self-importance?

This was hardly the requirement of Souness when he arrived as a player-manager still exhibiting the ferocity that had always marked a magnificent playing career. He took over from the bold Jock Wallace, who three times won the Scottish treble, and had as his assistant a brilliantly successful future Rangers manager in Walter Smith.

The great Jock Stein had already anointed Smith as a man of some destiny and Souness knew quickly the value of his support.

He also enjoyed a budget which Gerrard can only dream of and he used it with a swashbuckler's relish in raids on English football suffering a five-year suspension from the European game following the Heysel disaster.

Sassenach internationals crowded into Ibrox, Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens and Trevor Francis. Scottish hero Ally McCoist had moved to the peak of his powers. And Souness was still playing, and tackling, like a man fed on a diet of raw meat.

Against this comparison what can Stevie G muster? He can bring the lustre of what he represents, which is to say a player of great distinction and passion.

He wasn't the most intuitive of midfielders, he was no Andres Iniesta, his tactical genius was not always a beam of unbroken light, but Gerrard was a force of nature and football. He ate up the ground, he cared, and he had a deep and uplifting power to change a game.

He can tell the Rangers players, both the time-weary ones and the youngsters still to show the hauteur that comes with knowing you have reached the big time, what it was like in Istanbul 13 years ago when he was able to play such a vital part in overcoming the AC Milan of Paolo Maldini and Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Andriy Shevchenko.

He can pass on the brief but persuasive lessons he has received from Klopp about the value of work and the importance of pushing back your limitations.

If the deal goes through, maybe the players will be proud of the new association, and that while they learn Gerrard will too.

The more cynical reaction is that for all the grandeur of Gerrard's past, Rangers are simply cherry-picking a household name while replacing one youth coach with another, and that the real aim is to camouflage still another crisis in the direction of a once mighty club.

Gerrard, though, cannot answer for the motives of potential employers. He can only satisfy his need to be so much closer to the game - and the field - than so many of his contemporaries who see their reward not in the anguish and, sometimes, the joy of the touch-line but the easy and lucrative life in the broadcasting booth.

Gerrard's days as a player ended with a soft landing and a $9m contract in North American soccer. He had some days of wine and roses in Los Angeles, but he wearied of the travel, the loss of a certain bite in what he was doing, and he put away his boots.

He also did some punditry along with the youth coaching at Liverpool. Now he wants to go back to the battle. It is, surely, to his credit.

Independent News Service

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