This stems from a conversation with my brother on the phone before the Maribor game and then the aftermath of that 3-1 win. My brother said, “This is different, Gerrard doesn’t have to be here. But he is and it’s great.”
That set me thinking because he was right. Steven Gerrard didn’t have to come to Rangers. He could have chosen to start his managerial career at any number of clubs in the Championship or even in League One and the assembled punditry would have nodded their heads sagely and pronounced it a wise move for a young, promising manager to learn his trade before seeking to take on his ultimate ambition – which every man and his dog knows Is to manage Liverpool one day.
But Gerrard is here and he has chosen to be manager of our club, with all of the burdens that such a role brings.
I watched Gerrard as a player with Liverpool and England and while I could stand back and admire the notable outstanding performances (CL final, saving Liverpool in the FA Cup with the wonder strike against West Ham, etc) he always struck me as an enigma. He was never totally likeable and the best that I could say about him was that he was the least dislikeable England captain of recent years. He seemed to carry all of the weight of expectation for both Liverpool and England upon his shoulders and whilst there were CL and FA Cup campaigns where he reached the pinnacle of success, the ultimate prizes of a Premier League title for Liverpool or a World Cup for England were always snatched away.
As a Man City fan I laughed my head off when he stumbled, allowed Chelsea to score and handed the title to City in 2014. I was delighted and utterly unsympathetic in the heat of the moment but the aftermath was uncomfortable because you could see how much it had meant to him personally. That one moment crystallised everything about his career and his honest reaction to it afterwards - that it would hurt him until the day he dies - is I think at the heart of where we are now. Gerrard probably knows the extremes of ultimate success against all odds and the deepest despair of defeat, feeling that he was responsible for it – more than 99.9% of players or managers.
It’s easy to say he is looking for redemption and it’s probably no secret he would ultimately like to wipe out that day in 2014 by winning a title as manager of Liverpool. But that doesn’t explain why he is here. Why he chose us.
Thank goodness he has because spirits around Rangers have been raised to a degree that would have been unimaginable six months ago. When Pedro was gone and Murty was probably going to be let go, most of us would have been happy to accept anyone who looked like they had a clue how to manage a team properly and get it to defend at least.
Yet, for the first time since Walter was manager I feel like we have someone at the helm who understands tactics and has a vision beyond the next crisis. I feel like we have a manager who feels comfortable with the grandeur of Ibrox and the history of the Rangers that the building embodies to us all. McCoist, Warburton, Pedro and Murty all looked too small for the Rangers manager’s suit, the art deco furnishings made them look uncomfortable and somehow less. But from the day he walked in Gerrard looked like, not only was he comfortable with it, he understood the importance, he intuitively knew what a big cub expected and what its manager must be. Sure, Gerrard played for Liverpool so understands reputation but Ally McCoist played for us and struggled as manager.
Ultimately how he does will be decided by results on the pitch and we all hope and pray that things go well. The start to the season and the transformation in the attitude and work ethic displayed by the team has been a revelation compared to where we were at the end of last season. If we can catch and overtake Celtic within a couple of seasons, it will rank as one of the greatest achievements for any rookie manager anywhere in football. That’s the prize and boy is it worth having. Gerrard knows you don’t get to be Liverpool manager just by who you were – witness Gary Neville, his failed management career and any dreams of managing Manchester United turned to dust. You have to succeed and at as high a level as you can. Rangers are a club who can succeed and who wouldn’t want to be the man to make that happen?
Although it’s painful to remember, the closest parallel to Gerrard’s arrival that I can think of is Martin O’Neill taking over at Celtic. After a successful spell at Leicester, O’Neill was being courted by top English clubs and he didn’t have to move to Glasgow. He chose to be there because he believed, and sadly for us was ultimately proved correct, that he was the right man at the right time and could make a difference.
In a similar vein, I feel we have a manager who, while he is still learning, has already assimilated knowledge from all of the top flight coaches that he has worked with for club and country and will bring that to our dressing room. Uniquely (and often missed by the Scottish media) that includes an understanding of the management techniques being used by the coach of our bitter rivals. We have a manager who also understands young players and who will expect the best that he knows his players are capable of giving and it already shows on the pitch.
The weight of expectation hangs heavy at Rangers. It always has because of our glorious history and what we expect as fans from our players and our manager. There is a Rangers way, typified by class and dignity and the way that Gerrard has presented himself so far ticks every one of those boxes. He makes me proud in my club again in a way I can’t entirely explain and which hasn’t been there for years. At last, I feel we have a manager who carries that weight of expectation, not clumsily like his predecessors, but securely and with a steely sense of purpose. I believe that Gerrard has chosen us because of who we are and what we represent and he isn’t ashamed, even if the media would desperately love him to be. He wants to be here because the chase is on, the prize is there to be won and he welcomes that chase like no other.
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